Thursday 15 April 2010

Creative Writing in Other Languages – Again

European University, Nicosia, Cyprus
We sat in a round room on comfortable executive-looking chairs. A great space actually for creative writing. There were thirteen of us. We started on the theme of “April”. The trick was to jot down as many words as we could think of. And then look for the opposites. This was quite easy for the people here in Cyprus. They speak fluent English though are certainly not “native speaker” level. It was easy for them to find the opposites and write their “Hello Goodbye” poem.
We then went on to the “Demons and Angels” exercise, but used “sun” and “moon”. There was the usual discovery of extraordinarily original sentences as we put the two halves together.
These students were not familiar with haiku, but they did the usual trick of counting sounds on their fingers. Yes, even I do this when I write haiku. The haikus, as haikus generally do, turned out to be rather pleasing. The not-quite-native-speakerness of the students’ language heightened the charm.
The acrostic poems also were quite easy for these particular students, yet even they would have benefitted from using a bilingual or even a monolingual dictionary.
I introduced them to OULIPO and we invented some language games of our own. One student’s growing snowball was particularly effective.
The piece de resistance was the writing with the senses. I had expected them to produce mainly prose but they actually produced something mainly akin to poetry.
“Does it matter if it doesn’t rhyme?” asked one girl.
Well, of course not, but this just goes to show that we take a certain level of knowledge / familiarity for granted.
As usual, writing with the senses produced excellent writing all round. I was particularly encouraged by one piece that had a lot of repetition, where at the end there was a sentence that was different. Had the writer remembered the “turn” from the haikus? Had she picked this up from an example I had given in another exercise?
She didn’t know.
“I just wrote it because it seemed to work,” she said.
That says it all really.

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