To the best of our — African Writers Trust and Shantou University — knowledge, the recent poetry workshop conducted by Mildred Barya of AWT was the first example of representatives from an African cultural organization meeting with representatives from a Chinese cultural organization in Guangdong Province, China. In fact, we’re not even sure if this isn’t a first for all of mainland China — usually, the exchanges between African and Chinese intellectuals and writers are government sponsored events that take place in Northern China, and the topics concern agriculture, economics, security, policy issues, and like. We thank the Shantou Writers Association for participating in this historic event, and for their generosity, friendship, and willingness of the heart.
Below, a video clip of Mildred at work. Beneath that, a description of her workshop in English and Chinese (translation courtesy of Sallie, the STU student who worked mostly closely with Mildred throughout the workshop). And some pics of the workshop translation team. (More pics to come on Flickr).
Workshop Description 诗歌工作坊介绍
Good writing relies on the senses.
In this poetry workshop, we will learn how to pay attention to and closely observe our environments whether physical or imaginary. Our sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch will bring us poetry from those spaces. We will keep the writing simple but complex. Think of the simplicity and complexity of Haiku, the best book you’ve ever read, or your favorite birdsong. If you were to smell the birdsong rather than hear it, would it be like a dragon fruit or an orange? If you were to eat your favorite movie, would it be yummy and delicious? Your love life…is it tangy, bitter, rancid or spicy? What flavors and possibilities can your senses evoke?
There’s one rule: Honesty—which could mean your sense of feeling, thinking, and/or perceiving. It could also be your truth, your authentic writing that likes to be original instead of imitative, likes to be inspired by various traditions of poetry and forms without turning into a copy. Your senses will be your best friend, guide and teacher, and will expect you to read a lot, observe a lot, know a lot, and write a lot. They will bring you unique images (similes and metaphors) to make your poetry fresh, they’ll bring you stories buried deep in memory, in long-forgotten books, and conversations with your relatives, enemies and friends, real or imaginary. You can trust your senses to give you a poem with power to seduce, disturb, tickle, thrill, soothe or sadden the reader. That power will be in your language, your voice, your careful choice of words, your silences and echoes, the spaces between the said and unsaid.
We will try to enjoy the writing process, have as much fun as possible without abandoning craft, poetic visions and techniques that make poetry sing when working hand in hand with the imagination.