Who is Francis P. Ng? This question consumed the mind of Japanese scholar Eriko Ogihara-Schuck as she read F.M.S.R. A Poem by Francis P. Ng. She found this text when studying the poet T. S. Eliot’s influence on Asia through his modernist masterpiece, The Waste Land.
F.M.S.R. A Poem (published in 1937 and featured in this book) describes a train journey on the Federated Malay States Railways (FMSR) from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur and has been claimed to be the ﬁrst published book-length English poem by a Singaporean author. At its heart, Eriko says that EMS.R. “clearly inherits from The Waste Land its post—World War I pessimism about human deeds and progress”.
The trouble was that Francis P. Ng had disappeared at the onset of the Japanese occupation of Singapore. And even as Eriko sought to locate the poet, she stumbled across the astonishing fact that Francis P. Ng was just a pseudonym.
Finding Francis is the story of Eriko’s search and efforts to resurface one of Singapore’s lost literary treasures. A Singaporean poet who had been published alongside the likes of Robert Frost and W. B. Yeats. A poet whose poems had won the approval of British poet Silvia Townsend Warner and Cornish poet Ronald Bottrall.
When every clue as to who Francis really was led to a dead end, Eriko played her last card and decided that this search had to become a public affair. The Straits Times very helpfully put out a call for the poet’s next-of-kin. And Anne Teo answered that call, adding another interesting layer to this poetic adventure.
The persistent detective work has now uncovered not just a Singaporean poet lost in the chaos of a war, but also an incredibly moving story of brother-poets and a family bound by love and literature.
Singapore owes a debt of gratitude to Eriko and all who assisted in the search to resurface a formidable pre-war Singaporean poet, and in the process uncovered a rich literary trail for others to follow.