found//fount sonnet


The found//fount sonnet is a poetic form, invented by poet Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé. It originated in Singapore.

This variation of the sonnet comprises the fourteen lines expected of any sonnet, while dipping into existing texts to unearth fourteen distinct words, each of which are then woven into each of the sonnet’s fourteen lines. There is a strict method by which the fourteen words are selected and extracted.

The sonnet is unrivalled in its classic stature. No other form has its cultural cachet, so much so whole nations have their own versions of it. The Italians have the Petrarchan sonnet; the English have their Shakespearean and Spenserian sonnets. Billy Collins has written “American Sonnet”, with Tomaz Salamun penning “Sonnet to a Slovenian”. In Singapore, there is Joshua Ip’s Sonnets From the Singlish, which clinched the Singapore Literature Prize.

“As Singapore’s very own version of the sonnet,” Kon says, “this form revels in invocation and dispensation. Its beauty rests on how it needs both the familiar and unfamiliar, even as it composes itself through fine acts of defamiliarization. The elegance lies in the method. The found//fount sonnet remains reliant on existing texts, excavating textual fragments which become the sonnet’s pivots — or veiled voltas, if one would like — around which envelop the lyric and narrative of the new poem.”

History

In October 2017, Kon first conceived the found//fount sonnet, as a writing exercise for his poetry workshop, “Experimental Writing: How to Engage & Write It”. Organised by the National Library Board for its ALT TXT Series, the workshop introduced specific works of avant-garde authors such as Christian Bök, Derek Beaulieu, John Cage, Ted Berrigan, and Yedda Morrison, among others.

Within this exercise, the found//fount sonnet was called the “paper sonnet” or “cradle sonnet”, tentative names. The exercise was more prescriptive, using various newspapers as source texts, while issuing No. 18 of Rainer Maria Rilke’s The Sonnets to Orpheus, for participants to scan for a word or phrase that would become their poem title.

During SingPoWriMo 2018, Desmond officially debuted the found//fount sonnet, as the creative prompt for Day 8. As Desmond declared: “Take the found//fount sonnet as a fresh, newfangled formal variation of our very own.” The prompt generated great interest and response, also surfacing the byname of “konnet”, which has since cemented as a casual cognomen for the form. Numerous distinctive creations were penned within the first few days alone, from writers the likes of Francine Wang, Iain Lim, Jack Xi, Jerome Lim, Max Pasakorn, Min Lim, and Wahid Al Mamun. These poems are featured below.

Structure

“In the great artist,” Richard Brault says, “you see daring bound by discipline and discipline stretched by daring.” As a movement, Oulipo (Ouvroir de Litterature Potentielle, or Workshop of Potential Literature) explores poetic creation produced within defined structural constraints. It began in 1960, founded by the strange mathematician-writer pair, Francois de Lionnais and Raymond Queneau. According to Poets.org, both founders “believed in the profound potential of a poem produced within a framework or formula and that, if done in a playful posture, the outcomes could be endless”. Some well-known Oulipo formulae include the “N+7” and “Snowball”.

The structure of the found//fount sonnet may best be understood through its formal instructions:
  • Choose your base text, which may be derived from any source. For example, your base text may be a newspaper article, a historical document, or a Wikipedia entry. A textbook, travel guide, cookbook, memoir, instructional manual. Even an epic poem like Homer’s Iliad. Anything you decide would be cool to use as your base text.
  • From the base text in front of you, locate one word as your starting point. Circle the word. Now, follow the clause or line, and circle every seventh word you read. Keep going, till you have fourteen words circled.
  • Each of these fourteen words will now appear as fourteen found words in the fourteen distinct lines of the sonnet you’re about to write.
  • Write each line, from the constraint of that one word chosen for that line. The word may appear anywhere within the line. You should end up with fourteen lines, the number of lines expected of a sonnet.
  • Avoid end rhymes (we’re not attempting the Petrarchan or Shakespearean sonnet here), which don’t always feature in contemporary engagements with the sonnet form. Have fun with line length, allowing your poem to adopt short and long lines. Feel the way your emergent text creates fluidity and fracturing.
  • Give your poem a title.
  • Include a footnote that cites the base text, which you sourced and used. Also, please list all your fourteen found words within this footnote.
  • In this exercise, you’ve worked in found poetry, Oulipian constraints, and a classic poetic form. Such exacting techniques help deconstruct established poetic conventions and assumptions, liberating your language from their strictures. Have fun with how your language adjusts and shapes itself within such procedural limitations. Feel how authorship works in such instances, what it means to be an author when the text is created alongside such disciplined external constraints. 



Examples


Soma

In 1977, Thomas Kirkwood published his disposable soma theory of aging. It states that organisms age due to an evolutionary trade-off between growth, reproduction, and DNA repair maintenance. In a nutshell, aging and decline is essentially a trade-off for increased reproductive robustness in youth.

In the end it carries itself into a broken mule. It walks
to the edge of the page to find there is no more page
one; it was ripped out with the nativity scene and now there
are no routes to the prologue in which accidentally
the deity drops the wrong letters into the nuclear stock.
There is no quality it finds in things in which life
is both beginning and in the end. There is no antidote
to time walking the same way and much less a function
through which the last part we freeze-frame. There is the
notion that anywhere could love but I have no charter
to back that up. I am looking for a way to believe there are
no mules for a way to let blank page be attitude for a way
to pry that case apart without it knowing to revolt. I throw
up into the pot. It looks like sickness but not what I thought.

By Francine Wang

Notes: The fourteen words — mule, no, one, accidentally, stock, quality, the, same, part, anywhere, for, attitude, that, sickness — are taken from the afterword to Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig.

~

LYNCH
after Inland Empire

“Cinema plus Psychoanalysis equals the Science of Ghosts.” 

~ Jacques Derrida

seeing solstice obscure image
redeyes malaise prelude visage
machine axxon n. companion
blue-winged language cryptic phantom
over affect polish phallic
rhizome snowfall surreal logic
swansong motif evil tenor
rabid debride cryptic feather
rabbit summon debut gypsy
pipe dream philoxenus pixie
offal smegma spectre gnostic
iridescent paraplegic
sombre deluge nightgown sinner
milieu vestige requiem tether

By Iain Lim

Notes: The words — seeing, eyes, but, Philoxenus, of, gown, iridescent, the, ride, swans, companion, blue-winged, snow, over — are taken from the poem, “P for Polyphemus”, within Desmond Kon’s book, Reading to Ted Hesburgh. This poem is, at once, a found//fount sonnet and an empat perkataan.

~

I wished the aliens would come for us —

“The Andromedans hear your voice like distant amusement park music
converged on by ambulance sirens.
and they understand everything.
They’re on your side. They forgive you.”

~ The White Fires of Venus (Denis Johnson, 1949)

I wished we could’ve seen these hills alight with the purple of atomic engines,
standing together in our hospital gowns: hand in hand, the wind on our asses,
your mouth quirking up to the side. Though I would, I know you wouldn’t mind
if it was like us scooping up childless frogs in the Amazon — or if it just was a death ray
red between crumbling HDB blocks before the end credits came crawling after us.
It’d be something other than waiting for World War Three and more mornings
of the world prolapsing, crawling after us for the pronouns. I called SETI over fifty times
this month, thinking of you saying that you’d never call the Voyager down despite
wanting to adopt it like a fat golden child. I consider myself less than any
lick of dust inside a telescope, planetarium, nebula, but still I hope they’d spare us
a tractor beam or two, for these smarting forms we should’ve had so long ago;
I hope for brighter things than glassed sand and death rays. But whatever happens,
we’ll always have the promise of each other on our lips and held hands, together in
green hills and bedrooms: the breeze in our hair, your mouth quirking up to a smile.

By Jack Xi

Notes: The fourteen words are taken from the song "Hello Seattle" by Owl City. The words are as follows: hills / hospital / mouth / ray / crawl / and / I / down / myself / inside / a / sand / the / breeze.

~

The Otters

They eat Hello Pandas, first with forks, then knifes.
They roll on the water surface like newborn Roombas, but fluffier.
Their pithy claws are manicured with all-natural rainbow trout.
Their national song is “The Beautiful Bishan Park” in D minor.
They could be yours, if you give them nukes.
They lie on their backs like frogs & get tickles from trainee biologists.
They must declare independence, but they won’t.
They close their lentil-like eyes & mewl to their panda idols.
Their flotilla is sited amongst duckweed, like a stray onion ring in fries.
Their air force is wet foolscap, claimed from the school beside the river.
They promise the ICA to get passports soon.
To us, their soft waving paws are as harmless as National Day flags.
Their scientists know how to quickly enrich uranium-235.
They can’t be bothered to invade, as they love belly-up sunbathing too much.

By Jerome Lim

Notes: The base text is J. H. Prynne’s poem “Infusion” (from Al-Dente, Face Press, 2014). The words selected are: “first”, “new”, “natural”, “song”, “yours”, “get”, “must”, “close”, “site”, “claimed”, “promise”, “to”, “quickly”, “as”.

~

*values*
a konnet after Topaz Winters

you want us to be like water — calm, still, stagnant, plain,
free of calories. but i know we are fire — sparky, momentous,
indulgent. so how do we become a “thing”? how do
trainwreck and shipwreck co-exist? today, the guidelines
are blurred in liquid paper. will two yins eventually make
a yang? will everything align in your view of the perfect
us? will our spooning eventually be coined as art?
in death, do we part, or do we simply fade away?
& what sentence must we serve before ‘yes’ is finally
ablaze in eyes? & so which pill do we pick, which lives
do we suffer, once and for all? in this tale of the elements,
your fierce sculpture sprints to the front, and i billow behind,
a sloth. so here is the ultimatum & i have to ask you:
“will you see us ever crossing the finish line?”

By Max Pasakorn

Notes: The base text is a poem by Topaz Winters, titled “EVOLUTION / REVOLUTION (OR: TWO YEARS AGO TODAY I WAS DIAGNOSED WITH DEPRESSION & ANXIETY)”, found in her collection, Poems for the Sound of the Sky Before Thunder. The fourteen words used are: water, of, thing, today, in, everything, art, death, before, so, all, front, you, us.

~

Another Ostrich Stew

After her abortion, my mother leaves behind an ostrich egg.
I bring it to dates, let it bulge from my belly when I kiss.
Let its little dimples cradle my nipples, warm the morning
kettle, dream. Nights where I strip I sleep with the moon
on my chest. I slip into my mother's sweatpants. I ask when
she is having safe sex. The egg has no sex. Roux boils over
in a dream, but my thighs have tender meat. The moon
presses through a pepper-grinder and seasons my sheets.
Read: I miss my mother. Or: ostriches nestle their heads
into lovage to forget they have daughters. I am ugly
when I cry. Read: broth froths at the same rate
as a dress hitting the floor. Yesterday a man parted
my breasts like he was cracking an egg. Hot pan;
hot oil. I hang the moon and it dribbles down my cheek.

By Min Lim

Notes:

Source text: Apicius, De Re Coquinaria, 6.210-211; Translation by Grainger, S. and Dalby, A., The Classical Cookbook. Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 1996. The fourteen words used are: ostrich, dates, little, kettle, when, roux, meat, pepper, or, lovage, broth, dress, pan, oil.

~

MAGRITTE (OR, I AM LOOKING FOR A KEY TO DREAMS)

“Seeing comes before words. The child looks and recognizes before it can speak.”

~ John Berger, ‘Ways of Seeing’

i am standing beside my stove and calling it a fire.
it is up to you to figure out what is true, and what
is not. there may be a man-of-war in the septic tank.
this is alright, so long as it stays out of sight, because
in remaining out of sight, it reduces itself to a thought,
served in a compote. i am thinking of dessert. of men
and their wives in an eternal dessert, waiting for love
to happen in a bedroom afterward. they wait for
an embrace that will froth into affection in a dream. 
i am looking for the key to dreams. est-ce la pipe?
is there room enough in this poem to accommodate
an adequate answer? do the words before the poem
change anything by being there? there is a belgian man,
white and dead, who sees me reacting. he eats an apple.

By Wahid Al Mamun

Notes: The source material is John Berger’s ‘Ways of Seeing’. The words used are: “fire”, “what”, “of”, “sight”, “remaining”, “of”, “love”, “a”, “embrace”, “the”, “accommodate”, “words”, “by”, “reacting”.



~

QUIETUS
[Let’s Fall Asleep, Sail Across This Rite of Passage]

“I wanted to address it to you right away, like a piece of news, an adventure, a chance
simultaneously anodine, anecdotal, and overwhelming, the most ancient and the last.”

~ Derrida, The Post Card

Dear Letter of Letters, which ridge? Which bridge and shoreline for the Signers,
far from high seas — the beryl and olive, how visibly oceanic? The Language, waves

to dead ears, only the echo, itself one faring tide after another, an acoustic mirror.
What mirror, you ask, what is its own story and history? How pointed, image at rest,

afloat, barely apparent or rendered. How the Waders come, Senders of the Lighthouse
no longer useful, no inner light of memory. That, and what was once brave, even valuable.   

For example, you say. As if to end on something soundless, a caged bird, long songless.
Beside it, an epistle left unsent. Of what origin, you ask, known or unknown? Of what

intent and sentiment, what inhumed feeling? You hold a letter too. You, remote, falling
to the ground. Of the Void, you say. As if to think is to know — is to exist, to give form.

Every lost allegory another bottle in the water. Every drowning another death, yet life
to come. Also a possible line and sound, like me, before the birthday poem. If you wait,

wait for the pause, soft erasure — feel the lake fill itself. Not the obvious blue, but here.
In relation, always the laved sky, teal water. Within it, Inland Island adrift, and at large.

By Desmond Kon Zhicheng-Mingdé


Notes: The base text is Derrida’s The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond, translated by Alan Bass. The epigraph is excerpted from the book’s 5 June 1977 entry, with the fourteen found words as follows: signers, visibly, to, not, senders, that, example, of, feel, is, every, me, not, relation.





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