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OFW poets get advanced lessons in Cha workshop

11 February 2019

Image may contain: 8 people, including Cecil Calsas, people smiling, people standing
Kate Rogers with the OFWs who took part in her second Cha workshop
By Vir B. Lumicao

Poetry should sound like a conversation piece and not be encumbered by grammar rules, aspiring poets among Filipino helpers in Hong Kong were told in a creative writing workshop held on Feb 10 at Chinese University in Hong Kong.

Canadian poet Kate Rogers, who held the workshop under the auspices of the Asian literary journal Cha, described the Filipino workers’ English proficiency as advanced compared with her university students.

Rogers also said they have a good understanding of poetry, which was why she decided to push for a workshop for Filipino helpers.

She said the day’s topic, free verse, was born when some US and British poets at the beginning of the 20th century decided to break away from structured poetry and introduced free verse to make poetry more accessible to people.

Rogers, a former full-time lecturer in literature at the Community College of City University, told the seven workshop participants that free verse advocates discard rhyme and meter.

“No one will make a connection with poetry, it will only be for people with a very high level of education… it will only be cerebral, that is, in the head and not in the heart” if it remains structured, Rogers said, quoting the free verse poets.

She said in free verse, a poet should stop thinking about grammar, such as conjunctions and prepositions, as poetry is dreamlike.

“That kind of fits with my idea that there is less structure and, therefore you don’t need grammar because grammar is to create structure, right? … So, I think if you keep those things in mind, perhaps you will relax a little bit.”

The workshop held at the CUHK in Shatin was a continuation of a government-funded program launched by Cha, CUHK and HKBU to unlock and develop the hidden literary talent of the migrant workers.

It was Rogers who suggested conducting a workshop also for Filipino helpers after Cha and its partners launched a similar program for local students and economically and socially disadvantaged migrant groups.

 “Maybe domestic helpers, many of whom are very smart and often educated if they have a chance to get education but surely not lacking in intelligence…I said maybe a workshop for them will also be good,” Rogers recalls telling Cha and its partners last year.

Cha, CUHK and HKBU obtained funding from the government last year for the workshops. The first for OFWs got under way last October with more than 20 poets-to-be taking part in a session held by Dr Jason Polly.

Rogers speaks highly of Filipino poets, such as Ricardo de Ungria and Luis H. Francia, whose works she came across when she was invited to speak at the University of Santo Tomas last year. In the Feb 10 session, she used Francia’s “The Hand” as a pattern in the build-a-poem activity.    

The first batch of 10 participants under Rogers held their initial session on Nov 18. Eight did not show up for the second meeting, but six new, enthusiastic participants took up their places.

Rogers will hold three more sessions before flying back to Toronto later this year, but she said someone else will continue the workshop.

Rogers began the first session by putting the participants through a vocabulary and word-and-picture matching exercises based on the words George Ella Lyon used in her poem, “Where I’m From”.

The second session, designed for advanced students, focused on poem-building that involved brainstorming – or figuring out –a poem. This began with line-by-line unfolding using “the bright sun” by local poet Leung Ping-kwan, followed by filling the missing words patterned after “Anthem” by Aaliya Zaveri.

The last, most challenging activity was rebuilding “At the Bomb Testing Site” by William Clifford putting together cut-out phrases from his poem without reading it first.

The poet, who has won awards in various poetry contests in Hong Kong and overseas, said her aim is to enable the OFW workshop participants to write their own poems and, hopefully, get them published later by Cha.


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