Having Sarah Howe visit the school was an eye-opening and thought-provoking experience. The afternoon began with a poetry workshop; a group of Year 11 and Sixth Formers gathered together to explore poetry, thoughts, feelings and words under the theme of ‘Writing Home.’ After a nervous introduction, in which we stated our names and favourite poems/poets, we spouted ideas about what ‘home’ meant to us – both positive and negative – by connecting abstract ideas to precise images that formed the basis of our first draft (which was pretty good, if I may say so myself!). With Sarah Howe’s gentle prompting, we responded to quotations on the theme of ‘home’ from James Baldwin, Robert Frost and Emily Dickinson. What strikes me now is the way in which poets can weave multi-layered and abstract ideas into almost innocent language. Surprisingly, arguably the most ‘eye-opening’ part of the workshop was when we in fact closed our eyes, listening to Howe’s reading of Zaffar Kunial’s Spider Trees, Pakistan. In our minds emerged images of ‘English mists’ and a ‘shock-haired Einstein’ as we puzzled out the theme of dual heritage that underpinned Kunial’s work. After reading I Come From, by Robert Seatter, we were invited to brainstorm and write our own poems that focused on the places and moments that we thought we ourselves came from.
After sharing some of our own poems, it was time to hear from an established poet. Sarah Howe’s poetry reading had an intimate atmosphere, and her poems transported one into another moment, or time, or place. She read from her most recent collection, Loop of Jade, which deals with her own dual heritage (she was born in Hong Kong and later moved to Britain) and Chinese culture, as well as the childhood of her mother. Afterwards, we asked her about topics like writer’s block, prose poetry and how one actually becomes a poet. To see a ‘real’ and ‘live’ poet up close was something of a privilege and insight into the poetic world – almost like finally understanding the meaning of a difficult and abstract poem.