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Literary Arts

Masuri Salikun (Masuri S. N.)

Doyen of the Malay literary scene in Singapore.

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Published: 12 Oct 2016


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Over the years, I have often been asked: Why do you remain in Singapore? I used to dismiss the question. To me, it needed no answer because it should not have been asked in the first place.

Masuri S. N., who occasionally wrote under the pen name of Martina, is widely recognised as a titan of modern Malay poetry and doyen of the Malay literary scene of Singapore. A most prolific poet, Masuri has, over his lifetime, written over 1,000 poems. A founding member of leading Malay literary association Asas ’50, he was also the recipient of prestigious awards including the Southeast Asian Writers Award in 1990 and the Tun Seri Lanang Award in 1995.

Born in 1927 in Singapore, Masuri S. N. (full name Masuri bin Salikun) is an undoubted pioneer in modern Malay poetry. He spent his childhood in the eastern districts of Geylang Serai, Paya Lebar and Telok Kurau, and received his education at Telok Kurau Malay School. The poet, who sometimes wrote under the pen name of Martina, was a bright student, and was selected to further his studies at the Sultan Idris Training College in Perak, Malaysia, before returning to Singapore to serve a lifelong vocation as a teacher.

Growing up in the war years was not easy, and Masuri’s personal experience of the brutal Japanese occupation of Singapore while he was a teen inspired his first collection of poems, Awan Putih (1958), which saw him move from the traditional four-line pantun into a more free-form structure. Structure aside, what was more pertinent was that this was the beginning of the concretisation of the themes of nation, community and history that would come to characterise Masuri’s poetic work in the years to come.

In his years as an educator, Masuri never put down his pen and would continue to pursue his creative outlet, with Bunga Ros and Ros Kupuja as evidence of his early works.

In 1950, Masuri, together with other Malay-language writers, founded Angkatan Sasterawan ’50 (The Singapore Malay Writers’ Movement ’50, better known as Asas ’50). This pioneering Malay literary organisation in post-war Malaya was set up as an advocate of the arts and nationalist sentiments. Its motto “Seni Untuk Masyarakat” (The Arts for the People) served as a rallying call to represent the Malay community, counter the negative legacy of British colonial rule, foster Malay nationalism and progressive politics, and promote and refine the Malay language.

During this time, Masuri also published, regularly, significant works such as Awan Putih (1958), Warna Suasana (1962), Bunga Pahit (1967), Selagi Hayat Dikandung Badan (1970), Dalam Makna (1984), Singgah (1987) and Puisi-Puisi Pilihan (selected poems spanning four decades of his writings). He also wrote short stories such as Lukisan Rasa (1960) and Dunia di Sebalik Dunia (1992). His collected essays were published as Puisi Moden (1968) and Pengakuan dan Penglahiran Seorang Penulis (1983).

That Masuri could teach, write and remain an active civil literary force is no surprise. Not one to rest on his laurels of accomplishments, Masuri believed that that hard work, interest, passion and sacrifices were all important factors in the success of not just a writer, but of anyone with a cause. In 2001, after he had retired as a principal, Masuri returned to serve as president of Asas ’50, until his death in 2005.

An occasional Arts Advisor to the National Arts Council, Masuri has been recognised throughout his career with many awards and commendations. He received the Bintang Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Star) in 1963, the SEA Write Award for Malay poetry in 1980, the Tun Seri Lanang Award in 1995, the ASEAN Cultural Award for literature in 1995, the Montblanc-NUS Centre for the Arts Literary Award in 1996, and the Pingat Jasa Gemilang (Meritorious Service Medal) in 2000.

Masuri’s impact on the Singapore Malay literary scene continues to be felt today.

Timeline

11 Jun 1927

Born in Singapore

1933 to 1940

Attended Telok Kurau Malay School and Geylang Malay School.

1940 to 1946

Trainee teacher, Telok Kurau Malay School.

1946 to 1949

Graduated from Sultan Idris Training College, Tanjung Malim, Perak, Malaysia.

1949 to 1954

Teacher, Telok Kurau Malay School.

1950

Founding Member of Angkatan Sasterawan (Asas ‘50).

1958

Published Awah Putih.

1960

Published Lukisan Rasa.

1961

Published Puisi Baharu Melayu 1942-1960.

1961 to 1970

Teacher, Sang Nila Utama Secondary School.

1962

Published Warna Suasana.

1963

Awarded Bintang Bakti Masyarakat (Public Service Star).

Published Sajak Melayu Baru 1946-1961/Modern Malay Verse 1946-1961.

1965

Published Sekitar Sajak dan Perkembangannya.

1966

Published Kupasan Warna Suasana.

1967

Published Bunga Pahit.

1968

Published Puisi Moden.

1970

Published Selagi Hayat Dikandung Badan.

1971 to 12 Jun 1981

Principal, Tanah Merah Besar Primary School.

1974

First Prize (Literary Essay), Jawatankuasa Bersama Hadiah Sastera (JBHS).

1975

Work published in anthology Puncak Sembilan (Peak Nine).

1977

Work published in anthology Singapore Writing.

1979

Won First Prize (Poetry), JBHS.

1980

Awarded Southeast Asia (SEA) Write Award.

1981

Work published in anthology Puisi-puisi Nusantara.

Work published in anthology Puisi Temasik.

1983

Published Pengakuan dan Penglahiran Seorang Penulis.

1984

Published Dalam Makna.

1984 to 1985

Appointed Research Fellow, Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS).

1985

Work published in anthology The Poetry of Singapore.

1986

Attended the International Writing Program, University of Iowa, USA.

Appointed Honorary Fellow, University of Iowa, USA.

1987

Published Singgah.

Work published in anthology Tiga Warna Bertemu.

1989

Published Puisi-puisi Pilihan.

1990

Work published in anthology Words for the 25th – Reading by Singapore Writers.

1991

Published Penulis dengan Ketukangannya.

1991 to 1992

Writer-in-residence at the Malay Studies Department, National University of Singapore.

1992 to 2005

Member, Art Advisory Panel, National Arts Council.

1992 to 1993

Published Dunia di Sebalik Dunia.

1993

Work published in anthology The Fiction of Singapore.

1994

Won NBDCS Highly Commended Award for Dunia di Sebalik Dunia.

1995

Conferred the Tun Seri Lanang Award, Malay Language Council of Singapore (MBMS).

Published Mimpi Panjang Seorang Penyair.

Received the ASEAN Cultural Award (Literature).

1996

Awarded Montblanc-NUS Centre for the Arts Literary Award (Malay category).

1997

Awarded Hadiah Sastera (Literary Essay), MBMS.

1998

Published Sebibir Suara.

Published Kreativiti dan Kemanusiaan dalam Kesusasteraan.

1999

Published Di Luar Dugaan.

2000

Awarded Pingat Jasa Gemilang (Meritorious Service Medal).

Work published in anthology Rhythms – A Singaporean Millennial Anthology of Poetry.

2001 to 2005

President, Asas ‘50.

2002

Awarded Anugerah Suluh Budiman, Sultan Idris University of Education (UPSI), Tanjung Malim, Perak, Malaysia.

Awarded Anugerah Dharma Bakti, GAPENA.

Conferred honorary doctorate in education, UPSI.

2003

Published Suasana Senja.

6 Dec 2005

Passed away in Singapore.

2006

A collection of his essays and literary criticisms from 1977 to 2005 published in Dalam Merenung Dalam: Kumpulan Esei dan Kritikan 1977-2005.

2009

Collection of plays and poetry written between 1964 to 1984 published as Curfew ke Matahari Malam.


TributeSG

TributeSG celebrates the arts community’s most senior members, and those who have made a lifetime of contribution to the arts. These artists, administrators, educators, patrons, and champions include many Singapore arts pioneers who laid the foundations of the vibrant arts and cultural scene we enjoy today. The many profiles in TributeSG let us into the minds and worlds of these pioneers, and help us understand our shared arts heritage. When we revisit their works and rediscover their journeys, we learn where we came from and how we came to be. Collectively, their stories tell the tale of the making of a nation’s artistic identity.

In putting together this collection, the TributeSG team consulted an external advisory panel, consisting of Arun Mahiznan, Choo Thiam Siew, J. P. Nathan, K. K. Seet, Kwok Kian Chow, and Iskandar Ismail. Those selected to be profiled in TributeSG met one of the following criteria: they were at least 60 years of age as of 12 Oct 2016, or deceased, or had received national recognition in the form of the Cultural Medallion. This journey of arts archival officially came to a close on 12 Oct 2016, after four years of extensive research, interviews and collation of information graciously provided by the TributeSG pioneers, their families and peers. TributeSG also benefited from enthusiastic help from like-minded friends and organisations who supported Esplanade’s cause—to remember, honour and celebrate Singapore’s arts pioneers.

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