Getting Liwulis with Joshua Ip

Joshua Ip

Joshua Ip is one cool guy, and he knows how to run a workshop. I’ve been to quite a few poetry workshops, and sometimes come away disappointed. The disappointment can be caused by a number of failings – maybe my own failing to stay engaged and to concentrate, or the failing of the workshop presenter to stay on topic and cover the required ground in the time available, or the failing of one or more participants to listen rather than to talk endlessly about themselves.

Josh has been touring Australia, appearing at poetry and writing festivals in the major cities. He tells me it is no problem for him to sell 2-3,000 of his poetry books in Singapore! (F**k me, how many Australian poets sell that number of books – count them on one hand I’d guess).

The workshop I did with Joshua yesterday (6/9/2015) on Asian Forms (of poetry), suffered none of those failings. A good group of participants fully engaged by a guy who knew his subject, knew how to put it across, listened intently to his students, kept the subject entertaining, and covered a lot of ground in the three hours available.

I’ve heard of haiku, and renga and tanka and ghazal and pantuns, but I’d never heard of empat perkataan or liwuli. Great to come away from a workshop with new knowledge.

Josh got us to attempt each of the forms he covered. I particularly enjoyed the liwuli, which is originally a Chinese form, but has been ‘appropriated’ by South-East Asian poets, in a playful and mischievous way (so Josh says anyway).

A liwuli is a 3 stanza poem. The first stanza must be 31 syllables, and be an imperative, a set of instructions. The second stanza is 14 syllables, broken into 3 lines (no specific number of syllables per line). The 3rd stanza is 10 syllables, and must be a question or questions. Josh suggested that each stanza must ‘move’ to three different places, express three different emotions. Traditionally, the title is in the form “Liwuli: this is the title of my poem”.

You can also reverse the order (i.e. 10, 14, 31), and that becomes an ‘iluwil’, and you can pair a liwuli with an iluwil. I got the impression from Josh that Asian poets like to play with variations of these forms, and, amongst his peers at least, not take them too seriously.

In the limited time we had (about 5 minutes I think), I came up with this first cut of a liwuli:

Liwuli: How to Drown a Cat

 

Take it by the scruff

block your ears

do not look into its eyes

have the bucket of water ready

the water must be ice-cold

 

Innocence is subjective

look at

the bigger picture

 

Was your heart as cold

as the ice water?



Josh’s website is at: Joshua Ip


Copyright Mike Hopkins 2015

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