Wednesday, April 30, 2008

of KL "Go Green" Poetry SLAM

The second KL Poetry Slam, themed "Green", was held at the Loft at Zouk, on the 26 April 2008.

The Slam posed an interesting topic and theme to the poets with a wide swathe territory for them to explore, though not much is made of this with only a few avenues explored. Most slammers simply referenced the colour or the usual glimpses of green-eyed envy in their poetry rather than actually developing anything interesting based upon that tantalizingly green theme. This brings to my mind the question of what is the point of the theme in the first place. No mention was made of penalizing poetry that does not follow the theme as well. Why make a central theme and then abandon it for convenience's sake? The event while still fun, feels as if a stilted portrayal of the theme it supposedly seeks to parade. In my humble opinion of course, maybe I missed some inferences or am blind to the colour the poems painted that night. Is the Slam a place where you simply dusted off old poems and insert a line or two or is it an arena to challenge poets to challenge themselves and write fresh verses upon the appointed theme? Something to ponder.

There was also an outbreak of "Poetry Idol" fever as a couple of people actually sang their pieces. This irked me personally as I had asked ahead and was told that it is not the thing to do. Still there is that thing called poetic and artistic license I supposed. Who dares sing! But again, on principle I wonder if there are point deductions for this. I would have stayed quiet had not Jacob Sam-La Rose made a good point to me in his workshop. Singing actually takes away from the poetic experience. It cheapens the weight of the lines with the pandering of its musicality. Creating a buffer that separates the poet from the audience. A poetry performance must be about contact, full contact, mind body and soul, not the disinterested crooning that it becomes when the poet becomes lost in the act of singing. Fine if they are singers but they are supposed to be poets!

Another issue mentioned is of course the reign of the "Mat Saleh", if you pardon my Malay idiom, the preeminence of foreign-born or foreign nationals in the Slam. I personally see no problem with this. It is an event of spoken word for poetry in English, thus I would guess that to be fair, those born with the familiarity of the language will of course be more fluent in it hence make better performers for English poetry. But it may also be because that the poetry scene in Malaysia just started and thus it still takes time for locals to develop.

This brings to head another issue with regards to speaking, or more correctly, voices. Apparently some people think that the Malaysian-born poets that performed that night and indeed all over Malaysia are not speaking and writing in their own voices, so to speak. There has been great debate following the conclusion of certain literary personalities that many Malaysian emerging poets speak in fake and put on accents that is not "Malaysian". In this I am divided. I for one believe that Malaysia is such a place that it grows many weird and wonderful cultures, like a patch of hallucinogenic mushrooms after the rain, the confluence of it creating many voices, different, discordant and unique, but all Malaysian. Others question this and say that Malaysians voices should sound Malaysian. My question to them, as pointed out by one commenter on Bibliobibuli, what is the Malaysian accent? How does it sound? Should we all sing syairs and speak pantuns then? Oh well it is another issue for us to ponder. I for one believe that while syairs and pantuns are our heritage, maybe there is room for us to grow and accept other chords of Malaysian voices. A chorus of true harmony.

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Monday, April 28, 2008

of Jacob Sam-La Rose's Poetry Workshops

It has been a whirlwind week, choc-ful of whirlwind experiences. A slice of life on the literary fast lane, a meandering gander unto the poetical plateau. All in all a rather draining and tiring week, but one that is most endearing and shall be remembered fondly by yours truly.

Through the good offices of the British Council, Malaysian poets and educators alike have been given the opportunity to learn from and work with one of Britain's contemporary greats. As always, the British Council, never stingy in their offerings, this time around, brought over to Malaysian shores, the indelible Mr. Jacob Sam-La Rose.

Thanks to the timely words of advice from the ever kindly Sharon Bakar, I managed to register myself for his MASTERCLASS workshop as well as took part in one of his Beginning Poetry workshops, upon the urgings of British Council's Ms. Patriana. I actually had a potential schedule conflict for that but since they did not recommend it for me to attend the Masterclass without an introductory session with Jacob first, I eagerly pursued the gently offered carrot. Though I did not really mind, more time for me with Jacob and so it was. Logical I suppose, it would be useless for me to be in the Masterclass if Jacob knows neither head nor tail of me. Before a teacher can teach, he or she must know a bit of those they want to reach.

Jacob arrived earlier than the scheduled 24th April of my beginning poetry workshop and I think he is still floating around somewhere in Malaysia or Singapore attending to students and working with teaching professionals and inspiring them in the use of poetry and the arts to teach and to reach. To inspire and conspire, inspiring their students to greater heights, conspiring to lead the youth of our land into this wonderful world of poetic and artistic bliss. For the one thing that youth has plenty of, sans enthusiasm towards learning and patience, is their boundless imagination. How better to reach them then, if not by using this very products of imagination itself.

"...youth needs the energy of youth, which is why their learning need to be fresh and subsumed with real life, as opposed to the standard practice of stale words and long spoilt ideas. What is needed is not necessarily new materials, but perhaps a fresh new viewpoint from which to reinvent the familiar..." ~ Hora Borza Zorbul

Products of imaginations aside, it was a journey through time, space and place into Jacob's Tenets of Poetry. The rules of thumb so to speak, the essence of poetry that he prescribed to us.
  • Create,
  • Craft and
  • Communicate.
The creation process is like woolgathering. An exercise of free writing. As we pour out unto the page our memories, feelings, dreams and the many inputs from our hungry senses. Creating this mass of material for us to work with and shape to our liking.

Crafting is the editing process, much like using a giant strainer that we push our mass of materials through to shred it down to its bare essence. A process to find the bones of our soon to be erected poetic skeleton. Much like an effigy of a T-rex whose unfleshed skeleton is all that it takes to summon to our minds the terrors of its construction. Find the bones and then arrange it, craft it and mold it into the work that it is meant to be. You might have to play around with it finding the right groove. Sometimes having to rearrange the skeleton. Until you find that one pleasing perfect shape.

Communicating is the final step. An important lesson for most aspiring poets whose poetry mostly line their bottom drawers and back pockets. Read it out aloud, scream it to the skies, Publish it online, upon written or printed paper, perform it to the world, in what ever shape or form. Paint it upon your body with bold bright blue ink and run around the world naked dripping bright red orange paint! Sometimes it is just a footnote, at times profound, other times the snowflake that changes lives and mostly just something to be told and shared.

There you have it, Jacob's Poetical Tenets, along with two lessons that he brought in tow. The first is to root one's poetry in concrete moments. To show the reader what is happening rather than telling them how it is. The human mind responds better to visual stimuli and by rooting the reader in a specific moment, a poet does not need the magic of words nor a massive vocabulary to convey the message clearly, just an honest voice and the clarity of that concise moment.

The second lesson is to be true to your self and to speak only in your own voice. It is oft true that we follow styles or constructions in our poetry that is not exactly natural to our tone, culture or even tongue. As such there is this discordant melody that distorts the real meaning of our poetry, not to mention make us appear fake and insincere. Thus it is important for us to find our own voices in our writing so as to be true to both our selves and our poetry.

Along with the lessons above, Jacob also spent time introducing us to some of his current favourite works from other poets, to share with us the poetry that to him rocks. A mixed bag, some spot on, and others causing more consternation than amazement. But all in all a pleasant jaunt into the works of excellent poets, both contemporary and before.

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