The Arbitrary Sign

Remember the old alphabet book? How we learned to write? A for Apple. B for Boy. In his book The Arbitrary Sign, Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé reassigns the letters of the alphabet in order to speak with the lover, analyst and reader. In his personal and philosophical alphabet, A is for Actuality, B is for Becoming, C is for Cogito, D is for Differance, E is for Event and so on.

You don’t need to know Descartes, Lacan, Heidegger, and Derrida to enjoy this intimate volume, but you do need to listen with an inner ear. The poem for each letter of the alphabet is composed with an ear for Bob Dylan’s lyricism and Walt Whitman’s barbaric yawp. The book is also a visual delight. Each poem is illustrated with a witty graphic design, also done by Kon, all derived from simple geometric shapes and the symbols @, S and 2. The collection is beautifully put together by Red Wheelbarrow Books, Singapore.

The Arbitrary Sign Internal Singapore Poetry

The Arbitrary Sign Internal Singapore Poetry









Reprinted with the author’s permission.

Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé helms Squircle Line Press as its founding editor and publisher. He is the author of The Arbitrary Sign (Red Wheelbarrow Books), with I Didn’t Know Mani Was A Conceptualist (Math Paper Press) forthcoming in 2014. He has edited more than ten books and co-produced three audio books, several pro bono for non-profit organizations. A former entertainment journalist with 8 Days, Desmond has traveled to Australia, France, Hong Kong and Spain for his stories, which have included features on Madonna, Björk and Morgan Freeman, culminating in the authorship of the limited edition Top Ten TCS Stars for Caldecott Publishing. Trained in publishing at Stanford University, Desmond studied sociology and mass communication at the National University of Singapore, and later received his theology masters (world religions) from Harvard University and fine arts masters (creative writing) from the University of Notre Dame. An interdisciplinary artist, Desmond also works in clay, his ceramic works housed in museums and private collections in India, the Netherlands, UK, and USA. He is the recipient of the PEN American Center Shorts Prize, Swale Life Poetry Prize, Cyclamens & Swords Poetry Prize, Notre Dame Poetry Fellowship, NAC Writer-in-the-Gardens Residency, Stepping Stones Nigeria Poetry Prize, and Little Red Tree International Poetry Prize.

About Jee Leong Koh

My book of poems Steep Tea (Carcanet) was named a Best Book of 2015 by UK's Financial Times, and a Finalist by Lambda Literary. I also wrote three other books of poems and a book of zuihitsu. My work has been shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize, and translated into Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese, Russian and Latvian. Originally from Singapore, I live in New York City, where I edit the arts blog Singapore Poetry, and run the Second Saturdays Reading Series and the Singapore Literature Festival in NYC.


  1. Thanks so so so much, Jee Leong! You’re pure awesomeness!!! Be well, dearie.


  2. apollodionysinaqueue

    Hi Jee Leong:

    Oodles of thanks for your really kind read. Loved it completely! Posted it on FB, left a comment on SP too. Be well, and all the very best of best!!!

    Cheerios, Dez.


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