Swindon Poet visits Kalam


Tony Hillier, a community poet, came to be with Kalam for about a week, from the 18th to the 26th of February, all the way from Swindon, UK. He has been to India eight times in the last four decades. He has spent his time working with difficult-to-reach people, both young and old, in shelter homes and on the streets, in hospitals and in rehab homes. He is 57 years old, brimful of ideas and energy, extremely attuned to poetic nuances hidden in the folds of ordinary conversations. Find out more about him on his blog.

In mid January, he had written to us on our blog, and dropped in once at our Poddarnagar office. He liked Kalam’s energy so much that he flew back again to spend creative time here. He was accompanied by his friend Shahid. Shahid divides his time between Kolkata (with his family’s food business in the New Market area) and the UK (where he helps his sister and brother-in-law with their business in Indian food).

After conversations about poetry, youth and social change over cups of tea at our office, Tony and Shahid accompanied us to our 4th session of Writing Out with Vikramshila. We had asked Tony if he could share some of his personal ideas about poetry-making with the youngsters. Tony opened his mammoth jhola and took out small packets of breakfast cereals which he had got from home. He asked the young people to first rattle them and explore what they sounded like to them. Did it rattle like a rattlesnake? Or a jewellery box? After this, they were asked to slowly examine the packets, to open them and, if they dared, to taste the contents. Being a poet and performer, he had them enthralled and tickled. The young people went on to name the cereals according to their fancy – Coco chips became chocolate muri and cornflakes became jhupri papor. They pored over their notebooks in solid red, yellow, green and black, and wrote about their experiences with the cereals, using the five senses of sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. Tony called the workshop space a “magic caravan” where amazing creativity was happening. He went on to do a collaborative poem with the kids on the blackboard, asking them to come up with their favorite English, Bangla and Hindi alphabets and words. The poem created thus did not mean much but was fun to do, and sounded interesting. Tony said that poetry does not always have to mean anything, it just is.

Tony has plans of coming back to Calcutta in November, with a group of poets from his circle. Programmes including poetry conversations on a boat ride on the Hoogly river and a trip to Santiniketan to explore poetic identities and mergings are in the pipeline.

posted by Urbi Bhaduri


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