Siem Reap’s writers are putting their words into action. The last 12 months have seen the rise and rise of local lit journal, The Siem Reader, the popularity of Jan Cornall’s writing workshops and the establishment of an expat creative writing circle.
It seems we’re on the crest of a wordy wave. And as with most artistic endeavours in Temple Town, Loven Ramos is leading the way. Earlier this month, he established Woven Words with old friend and fellow Filipino, award-winning poet, Luis Batchoy aka Marcel L. Milliam.
What started as an invitation to join Marcel on a one-day writing workshop while he was in town, has flourished into something of an international movement. Budding writers from as far off as France or Indonesia have been submitting work in English, French and regional dialects on Woven Words’ Facebook page.
While here in town, the tracts written at the workshop are being distributed in creative ways around the community.
Loven says he met Marcel way back at college and discovered that they shared the same passion for poetry, and they stayed in contact.
“Through the years he became an award winning poet and writer in different formats,” says Loven. “ I’ve always been planning to sow the seeds on a poetry festival, so when he said he’d be coming over, I thought that would be perfect.”
Loven invited a few people from around Cambodia he thought would be interested in coming along. While they got a group of seven for the workshop, the online interest was staggering. “I didn’t think the whole thing would take off online, but we’ve had membership requests from all over the world, not just Siem Reap. They just want to submit their poetry and have a platform for expression. “
While the workshop was conducted in English, Marcel said he was intrigued to see other languages used, having come from a country where so many dialects are spoken. “Our national language is so dynamic that the boundaries of the language have not yet been set. Some words defy translation.”
Marcel says he was drawn to the Khmer poetry in particular. “Poetry is something that’s meant to be listened to. You’re meant to hear poetry instead of reading it. The way the Khmer poem looks on the page, the script is beautiful. I appreciate it so much even if I cannot read it, because on the page it looks like art itself.”
The pair say the poems flowed easily at the one-day workshop at Hotel 1961 which saw the multi-national group work on both free-verse and haiku poetry. Loven created quirky ways of displaying the poetry on everything from Post-Its, photos and CDs to t-shirts, plates and photo paper. The group set out and pinned poems to trees along the river road, and by the first morning, they were nearly all gone.
“Poetry, literature per se, is very hard to expose. One of the reasons why I think a lot of young people stop writing is because they can’t find their audience,” says Marcel. “So I loved the concept when Loven presented it to me. It’s also exposing poetry, setting the words free, getting them out there. We weren’t getting the poems copied, we just let them out.”
Loven says they were inspired by the displacement along the river by Hotel 1961, and so played with this idea of the temporary by also creating graffiti poetry on buildings that were to be torn down.
For both Loven and Marcel the aim of the Woven Words is to get people excited about using language on a non-academic level. “Poetry is one of the best ways to put soul into a person’s language,” says Marcel. “If you speak mechanically, learn English mechanically, then your English doesn’t have a soul.”
For Loven, he thinks the time has come to establish the literary scene in Cambodia and hopes Woven Words can take off into a full writers’ festival later this year.
“Literature has always lacked. People look at it on a very academic perspective, so it’s quite difficult,” he says. “You never talk about poetry on a social level, it’s a very personal thing, like scribblings in a diary. But until you open it up to everybody, nobody will come out. It’s high time we pushed for poetry.”