Slightly more than a month ago, I sent in my application to take part in a poetry workshop series organised by the National Library Board (NLB) that teaches how to write poetry and think about poetry through the paradoxical lens of form. Though I studied Literature, I had not learnt much about the poetic form; I learnt about form only through music theory. I started writing poems about two years ago, after attending two other workshops also at the NLB, and I’ve tried to ensure my poems have form, by drawing from my experience with music compositions and structure. It is fascinating that there are many forms in poetry and I’m eager to learn more.
The instructor is local poet Tse Hao Guang:
He will share the different aspects of form over six weeks, of which the first this afternoon is about Form as Prompt. Form is important because it’s something natural: all creations have form. Form in poetry is special as it is unlike dance, drawing, short story or pottery. An example is the nursery rhymes as they are poetic and have form.
The first exercise is free writing where the participants just write non-stop, after which we’ll read through what we’ve written and underline the words and phrases that are interesting or useful. Then I got quite lost from the third exercise where we have to think of an image or a moment and capture it in a poem. It has to be finite and contained. Luckily, Tse shares two examples: a poem called The Wheelbarrow and another called Old Pond (translated from Japanese). I learnt about paying attention and forming an idea (both abstract and concrete), taking on a texture as the image changes from line to line. I also learnt that something that is poetic contains metaphor, rhyme and contrasts.
The section on Image Generation just about flew over my head. I would need to digest this information over the next few days: it is relatively free of abstraction; poetry can exist and be made up of purely images but not purely imagination; by and large, the human mind is drawn to more concrete things; how to identify images and make them and bring in ideas.
This is followed by a video clip (Moods and Images of Singapore). Participants are supposed to list images that are “same-same but different”. I would need to go to YouTube to watch it again and figure out what I’m supposed to do about what good images (concrete) and bad images (abstract).
Next: What is a Metaphor? It is a more interesting way of saying something by comparing it with another. The connection of having two images next to each other could be good (fulfills the criteria of “same-same but different”) or bad (such as “as short as a giraffe”). To help illustrate the power of a good metaphor are the poems, the short In a Station of the Metro. (The apparition of these faces in the crowd;/ Petals on a wet, black bough.) and a longer Only the Moon (written in 1962/3, which I must google and revise another day).
The handout given for the day, a poem called Ars Poetica by Archibald Macleish is discussed for its metaphors and images, concrete and abstract, ideas and contradictions, paradox and more. Again, I would need to digest this when my overworked brain cells come alive.
It has been an interesting session, but due to whatever reason or excuse that I can come up with, rather heavy and taxing. On top of having to digest everything imparted during the session, there are many pieces of homework! We are required to free write for five minutes every day (or add a minute every day), besides composing a poem out of the underlined words and phrases from the pre-writing exercise done during the workshop.
All the topics for the next five sessions are equally, if not more, interesting. I hope it’s not true that as age catches up the brain slows down. Somehow, I feel that everyone in the class has no problem following the instructor whereas my brain gets more and more tired each minute and could not absorb any information, especially in the second half of the session.