Singaporean poet and teacher Ho Poh Fun dies

Singaporean poet and teacher Ho Poh Fun died aged 71 on March 12, 2018.
Singaporean poet and teacher Ho Poh Fun died aged 71 on March 12, 2018.PHOTO: ANDREW YEO

SINGAPORE - Singaporean poet and teacher Ho Poh Fun has died aged 71.

Ho, who wrote of the "quiet obituaries, subtleties/ grace, strength, forbearance/ that life has to earn" in her poem Rain Tree, died on Monday (March 12). The cause of death has yet to be confirmed.

She attended Tanjong Katong Girls' School and Raffles Institution, and later received a master's degree in English from the National University of Singapore. She was a teacher at Raffles Junior College (RJC) for 20 years.

Her short story, When The Tabebuia Bloomed At Soo Chow Gardens, first appeared in Tanjong Rhu And Other Stories (1986), a collection of four prize-winning entries from the 1982 Short Story Writing Competition organised by the former Ministry of Culture.

While her poetry is widely anthologised, she is most noted for her first and only collection Katong And Other Poems (1994).

The collection of 68 poems, ranging from the early work Sennett Road '66 to the titular Katong, one of her best-known pieces, records snapshots of experiences connected closely to places in Singapore.

It won a Commendation Award in poetry at the 1996 National Book Development Council of Singapore's Book Awards.

Many in the literary scene expressed sorrow at the news of her death.

Her long-time friend, poet Anne Lee Tzu Pheng, 71, noted that Ho had been the driving force behind RJC's Afternoon of Poetry programme, ensuring it took place annually for years without fail.

"I think we owe Poh Fun a great debt for her quiet tenacity in ensuring that students experience the arts, and I think she sometimes provided little prizes and tokens at her own expense just to enliven and reward effort and achievement."

"I always felt she was too quick to put down her own writing," added Lee, who wrote the foreword for Katong. "She had a fine sensibility and her poetry had a subtle power that sounded plain on first reading, but made its point sensitively without showiness."

Ho served as a Creative Arts Programme mentor to poets such as Aaron Maniam, who said on Facebook that he would not be writing poetry today if not for her encouragement. "She pushed me when I was in Secondary 3 to be exacting with myself, to find new words and images for things, to never settle for imitation or mediocrity.

"Like the Yorkshire poet Ted Hughes, whom she loved, nature provided most of her inspiration, as she went about the tough, quiet, hunting business of capturing elusive snapshots of plants, the weather and the other ways the exterior world speaks to us."

Poet Gwee Li Sui, 47, who has lectured on Ho's poetry, described her as "feisty and yet generous with her memories and opinions", and her collection Katong as filled with a "a delicate poetry soaked in the images and emotions of Singaporean times and places".

He added: "We have lost a fine rememberer of the gradual change, of the in-between."

Ho, who was single, leaves behind a sister and two brothers, along with numerous nephews and nieces and their children.

Her wake will be held at Mount Vernon Parlour 1 today (March 13) and Wednesday. The cortege will depart at 1.20pm on Thursday for Mandai Crematorium Service Hall 2.

All contributions to the funeral will go towards a fund to be set up in her memory to support creative writing.

Her former students are working on organising an Afternoon of Poetry and Music as a tribute to her from noon to 3pm on next Saturday (March 24).