Thursday, 16 April 2009

Conference workshop

For a while now I've been posting mainly about moggies, which may have given the impression that I do nothing but play with the kitties (while waiting for my manicured nails to dry and in between making the maid's life a misery). But no, I do a bit of work for my keep from time to time (only when I have to, y'understand), don't have a maid, and must have the least manicured nails in the country, if not the region.

So ... one of the things that has been happening here has been a conference on Cultivating Real Writers. Due to my neurotic urge to volunteer for things that seem interesting without considering whether they are feasible, or indeed wise, I stuck my neck out to run a writing workshop for student participants. A lot of the workshops and presentations were very pragmatic - aimed at finding out how you could improve your IELTS score in writing, for instance - so naturally I wanted to be the light relief.

The workshop uses an idea I saw someone demonstrate about 5 years ago at a NILE (Norwich Institute for Language Education) event, done by a very good chap whose name, I'm embarrassed to say, I have totally forgotten. He was a writer and teacher, and it went down very well, so I borrowed the idea - ie stole it. I'm sorry not to remember his name - I would credit him if I did - but at the time I was too interested in what was going on to make a note of it.

Anyway, the basic idea is that, if you can get someone to write a single line, then you can get them to write another single line, and then another. I use similes (as the original geezer I saw did) and try to take it through the different senses of sight, sound, taste, smell and touch, in roughtly that order.

The great thing is that neither I nor the students know what to expect, but usually (I've done this a few times in a few different contexts) what comes out is terrific.

I did the workshop twice, first with a group of lads from one of the big cities, then with a group of girls from a smaller place. Neither group had the choice of what to attend, which was rather worrying to me - they had been signed up for the workshop willy nilly.

Some of the images that came out were fantastic.

How about: "...darkness that burns until I look for a hand of light to pull me out of it"?

"Sorrow is grey like an old TV program"?

"Shyness is like a little flower in a huge heaven./When I feel shy I want to hide/so nobody will pick me."

I mean, wow! Images I would never have thought of in a million years.

They were not brilliant English speakers BTW, though some of them were pretty good, but the point is that they were using all and any of their language resources to write something fairly simple, but full of meaning.

If I have a point of view on the native speaker/non native speaker thing it is that a language belongs to anyone who uses it, perhaps especially for those who use it well, and to do that you need to play.

Also, most people told to write a poem would feel pretty shy, but writing one line - that's different. The poem is the result of the process, not the start of it.

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