[Photo by Zafar Anjum]
Carly’s Song by Enigma
Ah Gong talked about this amazing dry garden he visited once. He called it “the place where all of the beauties of Buddhist precepts come together and concentrate”. Some Zen priests in the fourteenth century designed the first temple gardens. The dry rocks were sometimes stand-alone features or grouped together, alluding to some Buddhist imagery. Something remote about how the world was but illusory, and everything could be distilled into a single breath or a child pointing at the moon.
Ah Gong didn’t think of himself as a Buddhist. He said this once and quite poignantly – that one could appreciate religious imagery and iconography from a purely aesthetic point of view, devoid of its religious symbolism and underpinnings. Even when those very underpinnings were there from the onset, part and parcel of the works’ construction. Ah Gong has studied a bit of Judaism, Islam, Taoism, and explored the plethora of Christian denominations. At this old age, he says he’s simply more at peace having explored all of them, sat with their distinct tenets, and journeyed with them throughout his life. Ah Gong expressed such humility when he said that – more as a confession than declaration – as if all his reading hadn’t made him none the wiser about the largeness of life.
A truly multifaceted artist, Singapore’s ex-journalist Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé writes, edits, and publishes books, works in clay and also teaches creative writing. He has edited more than 10 books and co-produced 3 audio books. He worked as an entertainment and lifestyle journalist at 8 Days magazine. Trained in Professional Publishing (Books) at Stanford University, Desmond studied Sociology and Mass Communication at the National University of Singapore, and later received his Master of Theological Studies (World Religions) from Harvard University and Master of Fine Arts (Creative Writing) from the University of Notre Dame.
Desmond is the recipient of the PEN American Center Shorts Prize, Swale Life Poetry Prize, Cyclamens & Swords Poetry Prize, Stepping Stones Nigeria Poetry Prize, Notre Dame Poetry Fellowship, Vallum New International Poetics Award, Singapore International Foundation Grant, NAC Writer-in-the-Gardens Residency, Hiew Siew Nam Distinguished Academic Award, and Little Red Tree International Poetry Prize. His poetry and prose has placed in literary competitions in Canada, England, France, Greece, Ireland, Israel, Nigeria, Scotland, and the US. His work has been published widely, appearing in over 200 anthologies and literary journals, including such established publications as Agni, Confrontation, Copper Nickel, Cutbank, Diagram, Faultline, Georgetown Review, Gulf Coast, Harpur Palate, Harvard Review, Nano Fiction, New Orleans Review, Pank, Platte Valley Review, Slab, Smartish Pace, Sonora Review, Massachusetts Review,New Guard, and Versal, among others.
In this interview with Kitaab’s Zafar Anjum, he talks about his experiences with different art forms and what poetry means to him, and how theorists and philosophers have shaped his mind. He also discusses aspects of his latest collection of poetry, The Arbitrary Sign, and his forthcoming books I Didn’t Know Mani Was A Conceptualist and Sanctus Sanctus Dirgha Sanctus.
Your talent knows no bounds. You have been a journalist, you have studied world religions, and you write poetry and work in clay. Is there anything that I am missing out? How do you manage to wear so many hats?
You’re lovely, Zafar. Thanks for your generosity. I do lots of interdisciplinary work. I used to be conflicted about this, desiring to devote my time and energy to one artform. There is great value in specialisation – it’s like deep-structure reading, you just dive in and swim in the depths of that field forever – but I’ve come to realise that even as a kid, I was meant to work across artistic media. The hats are all funky to wear, and life is a grand party. I fear that my effusive banter on the wonders of living it out loud as an artist betrays little of how reclusive a life such work entails. So, yes, the work is always heady and a blistering blast of rambunctious fun, but my daily routine is one formed around solitude and discipline. I absolutely love reading and writing, removed from the public eye, so this chosen life of intense quirks and habits is not so much a sacrifice as an afforded luxury.
Author’s Note: “In Inland Islands, a serialized narrative, Gigi, has had to suffer a life of travel and unpredictability given her lover’s work as an anthropologist. She’s finally found a connection in this new tribal enclave, and through her immersion in it, starts gaining insight into her own self and relationship with Geronimo.Here, each prose poem works with a foreign word or phrase – as a point of inception – then drives itself forward through various acts and/or turns of translation.” –Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé