By Mandy Pannett

Kitaab Sanctus Dirgha Cover Desmond KonSeveral things about this book suggest a medieval manuscript – not literally of course, for this is a publication designed for a twenty-first century world – but in the sense of it being precious, valued, holy and unique. The title, which translates as Holy, Holy, For a Long Time Holy emphasises this mood as does the epigraph by Allen Ginsberg. An essential part of the atmosphere is enhanced by the quality of the actual publication itself – fine paper, black and white geometric designs, the luxury of a single line per page, the cover with the rising/falling bird.

Plenty has been written about the constrictions of the Sestina form. The demands of its pattern together with the accompanying anxieties and pitfalls involved in finding six words that repeat and develop the overall piece, are well recorded. By focusing on the single line Desmond Kon has freed the sestina from the grip of its rules. Here the pattern is dispersed – or rather it remains the underlying pulse, the energy behind the language, but no longer obviously so. In this author’s hands it is ‘not bottled’.

Each of the four sestinas addresses a different person or thing. Each has its own motifs, references and moods. Together they offer an impression of paths on a journey, words and symbols which deconstruct, musical notes that digress in improvisation but always return to the theme.

Desmond Kon
Desmond Kon

It’s unprecedented. The first Singapore writer to bag this gold, Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé is also the first-ever author to place in a winning tie for Poetry at the National Indie Excellence Book Awards (NIEA). That there has never been a tie for the Poetry category in NIEA’s ten years of running makes for an interesting turn, but more compelling is how the tie names as its the citation two of Desmond’s poetry collections: I Didn’t Know Mani Was A Conceptualist (Math Paper Press) and Sanctus Sanctus Dirgha Sanctus (Red Wheelbarrow Books).

Based in Los Angeles, The National Indie Excellence Awards has been a strong advocate for independent publishing, a large sector of the publishing world, with most literary presses falling under its umbrella. The prestigious NIEA is open to all English language books in print. Entries come from small, medium, university, self and independent publishers. The judging panel comprises independent experts from all aspects of the indie book industry, including publishers, writers, editors, book designers and professional copywriters.

Kitaab Desmond Kon PixA 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.