On a warm morning on the 2nd of March, as the country continued to stutter through widespread unrest, a group of budding writers got together to do what they love: write. As the smell of hot tea permeated into the conference room in Eastern University, everyone remained transfixed by the words of Tom Warner and how he went about writing poems.
Brine Pickles, the first ‘performance literature’ group in Bangladesh, in collaboration with British
Council had the opportunity to invite Tom Warner to Bangladesh to conduct a workshop with the members of Brine Pickles, who had the rare opportunity of interacting with the poet. This was one of the several workshops conducted by Brine Pickles over time, with celebrated writers like Christopher Merrill, Dr NiazZaman and Dr Kaiser Haq having conducted these in the past. All the events were planned and organised by the coordinating members of Brine Pickles.
The workshop was focused on poetry and things got off to the perfect start as Tom quoted a famous line by Robert Frost to begin- “It’s either a trick poem or no poem if the best part’s thought of first.” It showed that poetry was very much a sub-conscious process where even the writer is uncertain of the end-result. He is himself the recipient of several awards over the years and he places strong emphasis on vivid imagery in his poetry. He moved the participants through their paces with several exercises that brought about that ‘flow’ which writers always dream of. One of the basic exercises included free writing where the pen wasn’t allowed to leave paper for an allotted amount of time. Any stoppages or hesitations were to be plugged with the words ‘I remember’, this lead to some beautiful and moving imagery being portrayed by the writers as they read out their works.
Often writers in English from Bangladesh face the problem of varying cultures and the power of words sometimes tend to lose their potency as they cross international borders. Sabrina Masud, who is also a playwright, posed this question to Tom Warner. To this Tom said that there is a great opportunity for writers to showcase what our culture brings to the English language and that there is much vibrancy in the fusion of culture and prose. He cited examples of the likes of John Conrad as writers who have excelled at this. By now, all the participants were brimming with creativity and it poured over as Tom set them several more exercises, some of which included modeling certain structures of poems (for example, a poem made entirely out of couplets, and another in 12 lines about an animal). The challenges were all very exciting for the writers as they showed they were up to the task by producing several outstanding poems.
The day was a complete success as many participants (yours truly included) were hard pressed to think of another day where they were so productive. Thankfully, the perpetual curse of procrastinating did not strike anyone that day and they managed to make the most of Tom Warner’s visit. The day came to a memorable end as students of East West University held a reading circle where several of their works were read before Tom took to the stage to read out several of his beautiful pieces. And, to wrap things up, Dr Kaiser Haq did a rendition of his famous ‘Ode to Lungi’, with the help of resident Brine Pickles musician Theotonius Gomes plucking away at the guitar.
The entire workshop was a pleasant reminder of people working hard to pursue their passion. And there’s always a sort of intrinsic vibrancy in the air when a group of creative people get together, it creates an explosion of expression. Here’s hoping to more in the future and that Tom Warner’s stay in Bangladesh is as eventful as his workshop was for the writers. Go Pickles!
(The writer is Sub Editor, Rising Stars.)