intro by elly nobbs:

For almost a decade I’ve been taking at least one online course a year (often more) at the UK’s Poetry School. It’s a great way to become a part of a friendly community and to try new things. Last fall I took their 10 week online course Speaking in Tones: Crafting Musical Poetry with tutor Jodie Hollander. And as always with these courses, I ended up writing about things, and in ways, that I would not have done so otherwise! And I think/hope that my music-loving mother would be pleased, if she were still here, with my new/renewed interest for how a poem SOUNDS. But I only took the one course, and as often happens, most of the other courses looked good too! To help satisfy my curiosity, I asked my poetry pal, Florence Ng from Hong Kong if she would write down some of her  afterthoughts on the course that she took which was – Our Hospitable Languages: Writing Multilingual Poetry (International Course) with tutor Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese  — and let me post  them on this blog.

And also to PLEASE include one of the poems she wrote at the course. And she kindly agreed with “The knife-grinder’s call” which follows below, after her notes . The poem is full of sharp (pun intended) images (aural & visual). Her poem suddenly reminded me of a similar story of my husband’s who as a young child in Brantford, Ontario recalls a knife grinder (probably an Italian immigrant) going through the neighbourhood, pushing a cart, ringing a school bell loudly to let people know he was coming!  Florence’s poem  also startles me by the turn at the end – the speaker’s reflections and how she takes in a much larger societal scene.

The course snippets and examples Florence gives us are fascinating and I’ve been following up online with the poets she mentions (most of who are new to me). I’ve added one link for each poet as a starting point for further reading/listening. Florence describes some of the things that surprised her about the course and what she said about “Chinglish” made me smile 🙂  [ BTW I selected the two images to go along with this post.]

World language family trees
A Tree I found online “Courtesy of: EuroTalk “CLICK on PHOTO to ENLARGE!

It was a 10 week online course with a forum but no live chats (hence “International” since live chats can be challenging for people in different time zones. I can remember being on a “regular” course which included a live chat once every 2 weeks and Florence bravely being there in the early hours of the morning!!)

Here is how the course was advertised: “Embrace multiple languages in your poetry and challenge the boundaries between domestic and foreign … Languages welcome newcomers. They like to mingle, blunder and tease. Read and write multilingual poems.”

post by florence ng, Guest writer:

As someone who is bilingual, it sounds natural that I would enrol on the course ‘Our hospitable languages’, though at the moment of signing up I never expected it would turn out to be such an enlightening experience. Deep down I even fidgeted a bit and braced for being thrust all those literary theories which only made sense in the epochs when they were born.
The course opened with the minimal poems by Cia Rinne. It is eye-opening to see how Rinne plays with English and French, making poetry both visually interesting and musical. Here is one example:
je sais
j’ai su
je suis

Another surprise is the poetry by Caroline Bergvall who doesn’t shy away from irritating English. She believes by doing so our poetry can reflect our identities. So it turned out that I submitted an assignment written in ‘bad’ English, English which I had always told my Cantonese-speaking students to avoid and which I had called ‘Chinglish’. We also read Liz Berry’s poetry which does a great job ‘taking her (West Midlands) accent out of a box beneath her bed’. It was a pleasure to the ears listening to her poetry reading. We were also introduced to Vahni Capildeo and Ewa Chruściel’s poetry, the latter was even kind enough to be our guest poet. We learnt how to examine the theme of ‘dislocation’ by manipulating our native language with English.

With course members from different cultural backgrounds speaking and writing in two or even more languages, one can imagine the challenges posed to the course tutor Elżbieta Wójcik-Leese. But she did a wonderful job. Her way of gently combing through your lines gave her feedback a personal touch and a piercing insight. Her prompts for each writing game were inspiring. They could hit me somewhere and I was never worried about my mind going blank and not being able to submit my assignments.

I am particularly grateful for this course because it let me write about things which I had never expected I would write in a language other than my native language—Cantonese. Elly is kind enough to encourage me to share a poem of mine written on this course so here it is. Hope it speaks to you in its rustic Chinese dialect.

The knife-grinder’s call

mo—gau dzin tsan dou

tsan—dou mo gau dzin

His call echoed down the dim corridor
and stopped housewives at their chores.
I loved to imitate his 2-beat haul
of the first word and the curtsy of each
that followed. I hoped

for the opening of our metal gate
and his chatter with my mum.
Then rose the whiz on the whetstone
with a few rests and it was done.
How I want to call after him

and trust my scissors to his art
as he packs and descends,
with the rusted diminuendo of his chant,
the stairs to those days
that are lost to a city of waste.

Notes: mo gau dzin tsan dou is Cantonese pronunciation; gau dzin scissors; dou a knife; mo / tsan to sharpen


CLICK ON SCISSORS to enlarge FLIKR Image source


Florence Ng has written poems in both Chinese and English and self-published a collection. One of her poems was longlisted for 2015 Oxford Brookes International Poetry Competition. She and her friends have founded Kubrick Poetry in Hong Kong, a club which holds activities regularly for poetry lovers.