My Reflection on Birgunj Conference

Kanokon  Opasmongkonchai

Thailand

One of my great experiences which I’d like to share with you was to attend the conference that took place in Birgunj, Nepal on 12 -13 March 2013. It was Asian English Teachers’ Creative Writing Conference (2013), in which apart from gaining knowledge from expert creative writers, Prof.Alan Maley, Prof. Jayakaran Mukundan, Dr Kirk Branch, Prof. Dr. Govinda Raj Bhattarai, Dr. Vishnu Singh Rai and other scholars, I also obtained friendship with warm hospitality, as well as Nepalese cultural learning.

In fact, I had been there in Birgunj in a team four days before the conference. We had a three-day pre-conference session of only core group members. In the session I got acquainted with some new faces. We shared our poems and stories and had peer-editing that offered an ample opportunity to understand and learn how uniquely we take up creativity. The second day was much more memorable. We had a trip to Trikhandi on a bus. It was about three hours to the south of Birgunj. There I saw mountains stand very close all around and a clean stream rush down. I felt it special for getting intimacy with nature. We were there to empower our creative writing being close to nature. We all carried some stones of our choice and I brought back a heart-shaped one. On the third day we had a great time sharing our poems and stories that we had composed on the stones we had carried. It was of the greatest significance, since we had penned what we had observed on our field trip. It gave us another but the most crucial lesson how to find our surroundings in our literary work.

It was on March 12, the first day of the conference after the key speech by Prof. Alan Maley and a plenary session by Dr. Kirk Branch, I had a paper to present in one of the buildings of a nearby college. I was delighted to have about 35 participants to join the creative writing activity with me “Using a Picture to Stimulate Creative Writing.” I was very much impressed by participants who paid a great attention to the activity. While making a presentation, I wondered if the picture would be too difficult for them to write on or not. But, with their abilities and talents, it was obvious that they could write poems and short stories rapidly and colorfully, indeed.

Here are some of the poems on the pictures that they composed during the session and that I would love to share with you hoping that you may also try writing:

My Heart Says  

Oh, Dear
You look as fresh as dew
I don’t have many words to say
But only few
You are the old one for others
But in my sight, you are always new
I am the sky, you are my moon
When I see you, I forget the morning or noon
I have devoted my heart to someone and that is you
No matter you love me or not
But dear, really I love you

(Krishna Chaudhary)

Mona Lisa’s Change  

Oh, Mona Lisa
Pure and pretty woman
You’re born in a palace
And you end in the Mc Donald’s
Why you change your life?
I know well, my Mona
You don’t like the servants
You just wish a coca- cola!

(By Spanish participant)

……………………………….

What eyes she has,

What eyes!

It’s hardly a surprise

That millions have looked into them –

She looks so calm and wise.

But if, by some strange chance

We passed with a quick glance

Today,

Would we even spare the time

To ask her for a dance?

Or simply walk away?

(Alan)

………

And my friendly souvenir to you:

Let’s Smile!

Nothing to pay
When you smile.
So, let’s smile.

Something you gain
Is friendship
Hope
Joy
Peace
So, let’s smile.

Anything makes you pain,
Forget it awhile.
So, let’s smile.
Smile! Smile! Smile!
(Kanokon Opasmongkonchai)

Pictures used in the workshop:

Picture1

To my mind, participants were quite active and confident of doing the activity with me. They had proudly presented their writings. It was very nice that they had different views-points to write, so it made the workshop more interesting, making me feel that they could secure their own space for potential writers to grow out of them! Best Wishes!!

After the paper presentations on the first day, we got back to the Town Hall to observe the cultural program held by cute school boys and girls. Several times they got me to feel like singing and dancing next to them. They sang songs and danced so well that I couldn’t at all feel how swiftly time had flown away. I also learnt about the diverse cultures in the country through their dresses.

On the second day just before the closing ceremony we had another literary taste. It was a poetry recitation. Several participants including Prof. Maley, Dr. Branch, Prof. Bhattarai, Dr. Rai recited their poems in different languages – English, Nepali, Bhojpuri, Maithili, etc. Although I could not understand the poems in the languages other than in English, yet I could perceive their elegance through the ways they were recited. It was really a good example of multi-lingual harmony in Nepal.

In my view, creative writing is the best challenge to accept if you are learning to write. It requires a great deal of patience as well as love to do that. Maybe love should come first. Self-discipline to practice writing with figurative languages together with observing things around us deeply and correctly with imagination is a very important qualification of being a good creative writer. It is certain that it gives us pain when the idea doesn’t come out and in particular when we write in English, which is not our mother tongue. But, when the good result ripens, I dare say it’s worth it, indeed!

Before taking leave, what I am feeling now is:

Loneliness is…

Loneliness

Is

Fungus:

It’s fast to grow

It’s hard to heal

Its root

Is too deep

To eradicate

And

Ready

To come back

Terrible!

(Kanokon  Opasmongkonchai)

Stay in touch to ward off the feeling of loneliness.

Cheerio!

Blog on Creative Writing Workshop and Conference in Birgunj, Nepal

Li Wei

China

March 9-13th, 2013

This is my fifth time attending Creative Writing Workshop since 2006. I have been to Vietnam, Indonesia, and Nepal with other core group members during the past few years. Birgunj has been my second trip in Nepal. I have had wonderful memories about the beauty of local natural scenery and the hospitality of local people. The experience in Birgunj has deepened the unforgettable impression of Nepalese culture and people.

Every time when I prepared to attend the creative writing workshop, I went through a very energetic and productive period of writing. The time constraints pushed me to engage in the writing, thinking, creating and rewriting cycles. My mind has been occupied by the inspiration of creative impulse and the floating images occurring from my life experience and my imagination. I was often tortured by the writer’s block at the very beginning. Facing the blank paper, my mind was full of unknown thoughts. It seemed so difficult to get started sometimes that I switched to absent-minded state. Usually, the nervous mind got relaxed during the time. Then the inspiration returned little by little and the writing process started from the moment I typed in words on the computer screen. Once I started writing, my hands would be led by the inner talk or ideas appearing in mind. As an effective way for me to keep writing creatively, free writing helped a lot.

Writing leads to rewriting. It becomes much easier to rewrite or revise once there are plenty of words on paper waiting to be reshaped and processed. Our brain works better under a little bit pressure but not so well under an enormous burden of the external or internal pressure. Facing a blank page brings much more pressure for a novice writer, which stops him or her to pick up courage and start writing. While facing a fully occupied written page, the brain is more relaxed and ready to cut dissatisfied parts and add more details from visualization. After some practice, gradually I come to understand the tips of overcoming writer’s block, which are free writing without self-judgment or self-criticism and fast writing without thinking too hard or worrying too much. Free writing and fast writing are the two best ways for me to start writing and keep on writing whenever I face the blank page. In addition, extensive reading and journal writing can also bring inspiration now and then.

Things are getting much easier when the first draft is ready to be read. Revision is cooking a ready-made dish with some sources and refreshing views. Inspiration only comes naturally after racking one’s brain. It is a bit like giving birth to a baby. Thinking is the pregnant process and inspiration is like the hard push. The new-born baby looks ugly as if the first draft seems rough and imperfect at the first glance. Revision and rewriting are the upbringing process, which take a lot of energy of the writer but the writing piece is taking shape after some hard work. In the creative writing workshop, every participant shows others his or her prepared writing as if showing the photos of the cute baby. Then the readers are supposed to give comments or suggestions to the writer.

The communication between the readers and the writers is crucial during the revision process. The writer can receive different opinions from different readers and find out the weaknesses or shortcomings in his or her writing as well as the positive feedback about the writing. The whole communication process is carried out in a friendly and helpful atmosphere. No one should be laughed at or belittled during the mutual comment process. It is often an interesting process to discover how your readers understand your story or poems in a slightly different way according to their own life experiences and cultural backgrounds. If the writing touches the heart of the reader, it can be shared in experience universally no matter which culture it might represent. There are a lot of commonality among human life experiences and emotions. Cultural differences bring diversified settings and environment into the story and show various mentality of the main character, but the basic emotions are in common.

In our creative writing workshop we worked as a team. We read one another’s story and poems, and then we gave our comment to the writer. I could often learn a lot from my readers and realize how to revise my work. For example, as core group members, we were required to write about a picture called Nighthawks. It was interesting to discover that everyone saw the same picture in different ways. Although the main theme was the same about solitude or loneliness, the writers in different ages and from different cultural backgrounds did illustrate the picture in their own way. It was inspiring to read various poems written about the famous painting Nighthawks. The universal emotion of human being was very influential and powerful. Writing from observing a picture was also an effective way to learn to observe carefully and write something out of box. The picture was the stimulator and the restraint. We need to observe the characters in the picture and we also need to think imaginatively out of the picture. As creative writers, we should not be locked into the picture itself like the main characters in it, but we should jump out of the frame and write something unseen.

Talking about my presentation during the concurrent session, it had attracted a roomful of audience and most of them were students in the university. They were eager to listen to my talk and I could feel their enthusiasm from their eyes. I divided my talk into two parts. The first part was about what creative writing meant to me. I thought creative writing had made me love writing much more than before. It was a process of learning to write and also a process of self-discovery. Whenever I tried to create a character, my life experience and people who were familiar to me were jumping into my mind. I thought creative writing could not come from an empty space. The seeds of a story must lie somewhere in our daily life. Through reflection and observation, stories would take shape in some way or another. The second part was about activities which could be used in English writing classes of different levels. Even some very simple activity could lead learners to create unexpectedly beautiful poems through right guidance. For example,

‘When I think of …

I can see…

I can smell…

I can taste…’

One girl in my presentation room wrote about sunset in the form of the above simple pattern. It was so beautifully written that I could not help offering my praise to her in front of the audience. Her poem really inspired me to use the simple-form poem activity with more advanced students because their imagination and language expression were more interesting in a way. Although the form could be simple, the ideas and the feelings were thought-provoking without limitation. Once learners knew how to play with words within the restraints of the form, their thoughts and imagination could be as flexible as the flowing water which could be filled into any shape. I felt the most rewarding experience of doing creative writing was that the potential inner creativity of oneself could be stimulated in the process of word play. The sense of achievement was fulfilling for most English learners. To find your own voice and express your inner thoughts in a foreign language were very challenging as well as exciting. The happiness of composing a short poem or a short story was so strong that the painful producing process seemed bearable.

In a word, the Birgunj Creative Writing Workshop and Conference were very successful and unforgettable with the help of many organizers and participants. I believed that there would be more creative writers appearing in Birgunj who would love to share their stories and their poems with the rest of the world in both Nepalese language and the world language English. Let’s write and enjoy!

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