By Althea Duncombe
Diploma in Creative Writing for Television and New Media
Desmond Kon Zhicheng- Mingdé is an avid lover of words and poetry.
(Photo Credit: Althea Duncombe)
Fourteen years ago, Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé wrote down three wishes on a napkin with some friends. One wish was to author a poetry collection and another was to win a literary prize. He has fulfilled both of those wishes many times over – including having won the prestigious Singapore Literature Prize.
His third wish, however, remains a secret.
“Not because it’s anything scandalous or anything,” he joked, “but pretty much all my books are trying to live up to that last wish on the napkin.”
Desmond, 47, is an author, poet and artist. He is known for his fondness for postmodernism and Dadaism – a literary and artistic movement that originated in Switzerland in the early 1900s as a response to the rise of capitalism, war and the modern age.
The life of a writer
When Desmond was little, he enjoyed poems, but it was the time he spent studying in the United States that truly sparked his interest in poetry.
He went on to publish various poetry collections and other books and soon became the first Singaporean to win the Gold award in the Poetry category at the Benjamin Franklin Book Awards.
He has even conjured up poetry terms and styles of his own, such as the ‘asingbol’ – a variation of Twitter poems that comprise exactly 140 characters inclusive of spaces and punctuation.
Desmond loves all art movements, but Dadaism appears to hold a special place in his heart.
‘Dada’ is a nonsense word, while ‘Dadaism’ takes that nonsense and transforms it into a work of art.
Desmond says that Dadaism, which is sometimes known as ‘anti-art’, “opened a lot of doors and made art more accessible to the public”. With it, even an upturned urinal can be considered art.
“They really overturned that sort of elitist idea of what art is and now art has become much more exciting,” he explains enthusiastically. “Ready-made objects can be turned into art.”
As for postmodernism, Desmond describes it as always questioning the metanarrative, as well as wondering what sort of information, knowledge or history out there is constructed.
“It doesn’t take for granted a lot of truths that we take for granted,” Desmond muses. “It frees up the human spirit, the mind and it constantly puts us on our toes so that we’re always exploring what we’re given and not just taking it wholesale.”
He believes there is no real end to postmodernism – only “post, post, post, post, post, postmodernism”.
Though Desmond’s writing is fresh, interesting and thought-provoking, it is also experimental and complex. Not all his readers are able to readily understand it. So, Desmond was surprised that his I Didn’t Know Mani Was a Conceptualist (2014) won in the Poetry Category at the 2016 Singapore Literature Prize.
“It’s not very accessible,” he admits, referring to his writing, “so for the judges to give a nod to it was a very nice signal to the literary community in Singapore that they were opening the doors to allow very different kinds of work.”
Desmond is also incredibly appreciative of his readers who have been supporting him.
“They’ve been forthcoming and kind and generous even when they didn’t understand the book completely… They felt that there was something in there that was new. That the voice was innovative, that it was trying to break new boundaries, and that was one of the big reasons that I wrote the book.”