Masuri S. N. 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 a 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.
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 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 published short story collections 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).
An occasional Arts Advisor to the National Arts Council, Masuri 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.
In 2001, after he had retired as a principal, Masuri returned to serve as president of Asas ’50, until his death in 2005. Masuri’s impact on the Singapore Malay literary scene continues to be felt today.
Author Photo © Masuri S.N.. All rights reserved. Author Biography from Esplanade TributeSG