Asingbol: Form & History

The asingbol was invented by Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé in 2010, as a response to an interview with Trapeze Magazine. Using the twitter character count as an Oulipian constraint, the asingbol is composed of exactly 140 characters including spaces.

Written as a single clause, all the words are not capitalised, with the sentence always end-stopping on a period to emphasise its statement of exposition and assertion. The asingbol attempts the near impossible – to be completely literal, at the points of its making and its subsequent reading, devoid of irony or metaphor as if to make disappear the hyperbole altogether. It is written like a dictionary entry espousing a single definition. It is also incapable of being read as symbolic. It celebrates the text as pure object.

In The A List, Desmond stated that the asingbol “was conceived as an expedient form for an expedient nation” – it is essentially an “impossible” poem, befitting of the “improbable nation” borne out of “impossible means”. The very first asingbol reads like this: “the asingbol is a dry lick, not peanut or lard or mere printed music – a canzone flying, face half-lit like a tiger bittern, limber barline.”

Used as a prompt in SingPoWriMo 2016, the asingbol has been attempted by more than 70 writers, including Deborah Emmanuel, Eric Tinsay Valles, Joshua Ip, Kok Wei Liang, Loh Guan Liang, Marc Nair, Ng Yi-Sheng, Stephanie Chan, Tse Hao Guang, Yong Shu Hoong, among others. Over 150 asingbols have been collected into the anthology, ASINGBOL: An Archaeology of the Singaporean Form, with an official launch at the National Poetry Festival 2017.


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