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         Volume 11 |Issue| 15 | April 13, 2012 |


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Aspiring Apostles of Literature

A group of young creative writers called Brine Pickles organised a two-day workshop on writing at the American Center, Dhaka, from April 5–6. With active participation of literary stalwarts, the programme became an event for promising young writers.

Akram Hosen Mamun

"Why do we need to write in English?” a young writer asked Professor Kaiser Haq, who is known for his poems and literary criticisms—all written in English. “What do you mean by we?” asked Professor Haq in return, sounding alert but not without the light touch of humour that characterises his personality as well as his writing. Questions from both sides went on for a few minutes before the novice writers and literary stalwart professors began to express their opinions at once. Everybody seemed to joust with each other at the 'Literary Adda'. Eventually, there was a heated debate about whether Bangladeshi writers should write in English at all. At one point, Professor Haq said, “If a language is used for numerous official/ business purposes, what is wrong in using it creatively?” After two hours of dealing with such weighty subjects as the intricacies of writing in a language that is not one's mother tongue, the responsibility to protect endangered languages and reproduction of clichéd works based on the Liberation War, the participants of 'Literary Adda' ended the session.

The 'Adda' formally closed the two-day 'Creative Writing and Performance Literature Workshop' on April 6 at the American Center, Dhaka. With active support of important intellectuals such as Professor Niaz Zaman, Kaiser Haq, Razia Sultana Khan and Dr. Deena Forkan, the workshop became an event for aspiring young writers, who “choose” to write in English. People who write in Bengali also joined the last session and seemed enthusiastic about the professors' opinions.

Professor Haq took up the task of writing a Dadaistic poem by picking ostensibly random words from newspapers. Photo: Amirul Rajiv

The programmes began with Lauren Lovelace, the Director of the American Center welcoming everyone onboard. After the inauguration, Professor Kaiser Haq began his session on poetry by asking the participants to read out their own poems.

The workshop was arranged by a group of young creative writers called Brine Pickles who use English as a medium of expression. The people who formed the group when they were students of different universities have now got into different jobs, but they still get together and continue to produce creative works. The workshop was in part an attempt to inspire students to write as the members of Brine Pickles did in their student life. As Sabreena Ahmed, a member of the group puts it, “… The Muse remains dormant in any person. You just need to nudge her to light the fire of creativity in that person.” Brine Pickles wanted to achieve that through the workshop. Prior to this , the group also conducted workshops in Chittagong University and Dhaka Universityin which students of different universities took part. According to Sabreena, the best 10 participants were invited for this workshop. The group hopes to bring out a publication with works produced during the workshop this year.

Coming back to Professor Haq's session on poetry, he took up the task of writing a Dadaistic poem by picking ostensibly random words from torn pieces of newspapers. He made the technique serve as way of invoking ideas, themes and images. However, the poem must be composed, edited and revised at a later time. Poetry is “the best words in their best order”. Therefore, according to Haq, selecting appropriate diction for a poem is of crucial importance. He then asserted that if an image is clear, it is more likely to leave a lasting impression on the reader's mind. Many contemporary poets, especially South Asians write in free verse. Nevertheless, it is imperative to create and pay attention to the cadence within free verse.

After poetry, he devoted much of the session in discussing creative non-fiction. He particularly emphasised on the techniques of creating 'portraits'. To make his point, he read out his portrait on the poet Belal Chowdhury. His usual touch of humour and ready wit did not fail to make everyone roar in laughter. The participants also listened to recordings of contemporary British and American poets like Allan Ginsberg and Philip Larkin reciting their own poems.

On the second day, Supernumerary Professor of the Department of English, Dhaka University (DU) Niaz Zaman, asked everyone to define short story in a single sentence, and moved on to dissect the basic structure of fairy tales. The young writers took the tale of “Little Red Riding Hood” as an example and put it in the structure to find out its conflicts and resolution. However, not all short stories follow certain structure of conflicts, climax and resolution. Nevertheless, according to Professor Zaman, keeping a structure in mind proves to be useful for beginners.

She also made everyone read Saki's story “The Open Window” and asked them to identify the structural elements of the story. She then pointed out how small clues are given about the characters in the story. After that, in the second part of the session, which was more interesting than the first, the participants made a mental image of a theme that had been in their minds for some time. The professor gave the participants 30 minutes to start writing the first paragraphs of a story from their mental image. She read the works produced by the participants and expressed her opinion on them. Finally, she asked everyone to put prime importance on flawless grammar, punctuation and mechanics. She concluded with a clever note: “Don't attempt to write in English if you don't dream in English.”

The Chairperson of the English Department, DU, Professor Tahmina Ahmed's session on performance was amusing. She started with what she called the ice-breaking games. She made the participants identify the 'voice' in John Donne's “Batter My Heart” and “The Sun Rising”. “A literary piece can be performed in many different ways, but we have to choose the right voice for performance,” she said. She also listened to the readings of some of the participants' own writings.

On the whole, the 'Literary Adda' that concluded the workshop, was the most impressive part.


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