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Linking Young Minds Together
  Volume 6 | Issue 28 | July 15, 2012 |


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At a Poetry Workshop

Pushpita Alam

Is it possible to teach the art of writing poetry? Or are poems purely elusive products of genius and inspiration? Bangladesh's premier English language poet, Professor Kaiser Haq, dared participants to challenge such long-standing controversies shrouding the practice of writing poetry during a month-long workshop organised by the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB).

Dr Kaiser Haq moderating the workshop. Courtesy: ULAB

ULAB's unique initiative brought together a diverse group comprising two budding academics, a corporate professional, a graphic designer, an entrepreneur and a development practitioner. Sharing a passion for the art form (as well as relatively prosaic day jobs), this motley crew yearned to “come out” of the poetry closet. What better way to hone their latent skills for public scrutiny than under the guidance of a homegrown master?

With the very first assignment, Professor Haq proved that he was an expert teacher as well. The group was asked to form poems arbitrarily by picking cut-out words from a hat. That even random arrangement of words could produce beautiful and profound imagery was a crucial lesson - it helped participants internalise the significance of chance as an element in creativity. “Marriage clips you together, like clothes on a line” was one such image produced by this exercise. Others were more abstract, dealing with public gods, brimming silences and space.

Participants were then guided to explore the poetic potential of those images using a step by step process of refinement; a useful lesson for those who had previously refrained from revisiting their earlier works for fear of interfering with some divine inspiration. The random selection of the words also provided a protective buffer for artistic sensibilities, allowing even the most self-conscious in the group to slowly become comfortable with sharing their work and having it critiqued by others.

The following sessions focused on familiarising the group with key aspects of poetic theory, particularly regarding contemporary styles. Subsequent exercises, writing parody poems, for example - were highly effective in broadening exposure to new and different genres, at the same time forcing participants to concentrate on crucial details, such as choice of words and rhythm.

In trying to shape striking imagery out of everyday things, the group came to appreciate that before mastering the art of poetry, one must first perfect the art of observation. By the last session, the group had come full circle, with even the most reserved participant scrambling to read out confessional poems chronicling intensely personal experiences.

But perhaps the most important outcome of the workshop was the surprisingly wide array of skills Professor Haq had managed to impart in such a short span of time. From a disparate group of strangers whose poetry had been confined to personal journals and obscure blogs, it had forged an energised and empowered collective ready to publish anthologies and take the literary world by storm!

(The author is Project Manager, BRAC.)

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