Poetry In Motion with Lawrence Lacambra Ypil by The Jakarta Post Writing Center

I am kinda addicted to poems for these past few years. I've already forgot when was the last time I wrote short stories. Last weekend I had a chance to participate in a two-days event called as Writer Series' 2017 by The Jakarta Post Writing Center (TJP Writing Center). The first day consist of many talk shows and book projects by respective authors, you could check out all the schedule list here, while the second day exhibit many useful workshops, like one of the classes which titled: Poetry In Motion by Lawrence Lacambra Ypil (in short, Larry).

During the first day, I really like these two talk shows:
1. Writing: A Scholarly or Writerly Pursuit?
The speakers are Melani Budianta and Robin Hemley. This discussion mainly pursuit to answer whether one must write in academically or write in creatively. While Melani is an academic, a famous one, she still writes creatively in her spare time. She is inspired by her late sister, when she was a child, her sister gave her a diary. Back at that time, a 6 years old Indonesian still can't read, they're at the same level with kindergarten kids, and the diary is written in English by her sister. As time goes by, she wrote more academically in pursuit of her curiosity. Meanwhile, Robin grown up in a creative environment, his mother is a translator, and also a short story writer, while his father is a poet. Now, Robin delve in academic. He successfully builds NUS Yale writers' centre, making writing a cool activity again for the students. The discussion concludes that one must keep writing in both side, academically and creatively. Mostly because writing academically will challenge oneself to keep learning. On the other side, writing creatively will build empathy and change your perception, so you can write better for your audience. For example, writing an academic journal that is not boring and more in touch with the readers, or writing historical fiction novel with a great background settings so it can feel more realist.

2. For What is the Use of Poetry?
The speakers are Debra Yatim, Aan Mansyur, and Larry. This one talks about how the creative process behind their poems, and the use of poetry in their lives. Debra, she instinctively thought in English and write with it most of the time, every time there's an event that called her feelings, she will write it instantly using English. That's why her poem is empowering for women, and talk about many roles of women in different cultures. Aan, his creative process is mostly translating his poem from his mind, which thinks in Bugis language and convert it directly into his poem in Bahasa. Bugis language is very complicated, not as simple as Bahasa, he worried that some of his poem isn't exactly as he want in terms of the meaning. And Larry, he looks for music in the city landscapes, expressing it in words, for example Cebu is like a free verse poem, Singapore (due to its orderly fashion) would be a sonnet. In the end, they agree that poetry is used to express themselves and convey a message to its readers, not in direct blatant boring way, but in more beautiful manner, using every tools they have, such as metaphors and rhymes.

On the second day, this is where the fun begins. Larry started our workshop sessions, telling us about his experience going to Sarinah, this is the first time he visits Jakarta. That place reminds him of his childhood in Cebu. He read us his first draft poem about it, too bad my memory isn't good. All I remember is some of the lines, like how the little escalator works, a sweet and kind female sales person, and shampoo bottles on the shelves gathering dust without expiration dates.

After that he began distributing blank papers, telling us to write, and answers these questions:
"Who are you?"
"Why are you here?"
"Why poetry?"

He gave us 5 minutes. Writing in timed manner is not my style, it's hard. To write until this sentence, I need 5 cigarettes breaks, 3 bathroom times, going downstairs, scavenge my refrigerator and eat a melon, going back upstairs, opened Facebook and sharing lots of memes, finally back again writing this.

The allotted time passed by, and here's my writings:
My name is Denis Setiawan. You can call me Denis. I am a manager in a company. I like to write as a hobby, back in the old days, I wrote short stories. As time goes by, now I've fallen in love more with poetry, because it's more emotional, compact, and full of depth, from the long epic ones like Beowulf or short ones like Basho's. I am here because I want to learn more about poetry. Poetry is one of the way to know myself. Poetry is like a prayer to me. Nowadays, I almost can't write poetry in English anymore, I'm more comfortable using Bahasa. Hopefully this workshops refreshes it, like a seed hiding deep inside the soil after waiting all year long for the rain.

Rewriting this again on my blog feels cheesy. There are 9 participants in this, a small but effective numbers. We share all of our writings throughout the sessions, learning together, giving feedback one another. They're all talented.

Larry listened to each one of us, and (probably) examining our motives in poetry. Then he began to explain what he thinks about poetry. As an experienced teacher, all his example and analogies are easy to understand. He said, "A novel, or short story, or any other form of narrative is like a movie. It's constantly moving, from each part to next. While a poem, is like a picture. It stands still. Lingering. To stop and enjoy the moment."

There was a coffee cup on his table and a small plate. He began to play with it. He moved the cup into different positions, spilling the small left over coffee into the small plate and let it smudge to the rim. Finally he made the cup standing in a strange sideways, then he said, "A poet must look differently. A poet must search for many interesting angles from ordinary things."

He knew that 3 hours will never be enough to explain everything, so he began sharing Japanese haikus written by Basho and Issa. He told us that haiku is another form of poet that had been evolved from older ones (you can read about it here, from renga to haiku). He made us, in turn, read three times for each one of it, to gain more feelings about it. Then he began to give us another blank papers, he wanted us to write as many haikus as possible, and it doesn't even need to follow the syllable rules in each line. He shared one of his writing mantra from his teacher to help us: "Write in white heat. Edit in cold blood". Every 2 minutes, he gave another theme for us to write, forcing us to stop thinking and going for the spontaneity, no need to edit.

Here are some of my attempts on it:

(theme: growing up)

yesterday, no moustache
today, full of beard
every morning shaving

(theme: childhood memories)

a fish pond at the back garden
long scorching summer came
now, it's empty

(theme: parents and family)

there is a mama
there is a papa
is it a family?

Again, as part of our routines, we personally pick our best 3 and share it to others for feedback. Read it aloud twice for each one of it. Then he talked even further about haiku, he said, "Haiku mostly consist of 3 lines, the 1st line is the set up, the 2nd is the transformation, the 3rd is where the magic happens, the line of conclusion that triggers the emotion." We all listened to him. "To create a deep poem, first you must find something concrete and transform it into another form, like from a physical thing such as mosquito to emotional situations like deaf (example from one of Issa's haiku). The other thing, a beautiful poem must have tensions, in narrative we called this as conflicts. So the poem should be able to describe something like an opposite that directs into the same meaning, whether it's physical, emotional, or conceptual."

After the coffee break, we entered the next sessions. This time, Larry told us that he's been experimenting with old pictures, images, and linked it to words, for his new poetry books. He shared lot's of old pictures from Cebu at the early 19th century. It was fascinating. He wanted us to write two lines for each picture. For every pictures, he gave us 30 seconds. So we wrote it all without a single protest, because we are already accustomed to the phase given. Time ran out, and we were exhausted. "From that each two lines, arrange it into 14 lines of a single poem," Larry requested. This is a good practice, I will definitely use this in the upcoming days.

This is my result from that practice:

Time Travel to 19th Century

Friday in Cebu, Casa de Campo.
A sweet exclusive place with two floors, full furnished
where different men breed all kind of guitars.

A man said:
"All you need is a proper suit, and a proper hair.
That's all these women care."

Another man said:
"I'd rather choke you now, than playing with this guitar.
But we still need to eat."

The road full of carriages, racing against the train.
People keep cheering, betting their own commodities.

Across it, the two trees are comfortably laughing,
while the cathedral is busy swallowing idle men.

We gather together here, in black and white.

As usual, we read our poems and share it to the group. Sometimes it's amazing how pressure can affect people, such as writing these poems. It's been a very productive day for us. Larry ended our session with teaching more things about poetry, "When we write a poem, we intuitively follow our own breaths. So, the line breaks and punctuation marks are important tools. Read aloud a lot of poems, try to feel the poet's breath. We try to follow it and understand the meaning of it." I never realized this, that's why my old poems are using very little punctuation, this is one of the aspects that I need to improve.

"There will always be a gap, between the poet and the poem, between the poem and the reader, it's okay. It's fine. The beauty of poetry is that they can have many meanings and interpretations, depends on the reader, depends on their reading style, depends on their background and knowledge, so it's fine. Not like a prose which is obvious with its meaning, because it's an opinion of the writer. Keep playing around with your poems, don't worry about meaning. It doesn't even have to be too literal. I hope this 14 line poem practice is useful to you. Don't stop looking at different angles and create interesting images. There is not always a meaning behind a poem, but it should always triggers an effect to its readers. No poem is done in one sitting. You should always revise it later. If your poem feels bad, find another way to write it. If it's still doesn't work, maybe it's not you, maybe it's the poem that doesn't work. Don't worry to throw it away and let it go. It's easier to let go a single page draft of a poem rather than a 200 pages of novel scripts." Larry ended the workshop, and I am very satisfied with it. So many new techniques and insights that I've learned. Hopefully, this post will be useful for others who want to write poems.

Thank you so much to TJP Writing Center team and Jakarta Book Club for this generous opportunity so I can experience this awesome course. Maybe in the future I'll join another poetry class from them, because it's worth it. If you love literature and writings, please join us in another future events.

All the participants and Larry (blue shirt at the back).

Highly appreciated for the kind words, thank you Larry! :)