Crafty way with words

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 March, 2010, 12:00am

You could call it poetic licence. It took a young designer with little interest in rhyme or verse to put together a project aimed at weaving poetry into our everyday routines.

Until recently, Millie Chiu Yuet-ying regarded poetry as an irrelevant art form: it was either too abstract or 'too far away from real life'. But she found sudden insight, Chiu says, while watching a movie scene where a Parisian beggar was selling poems to passers-by.

'I realised how much handicraft and poetry have in common. Poems are like a piece of the writer's emotion: joy or sadness lingers in the words. It's the same with my bags - every stitch reveals my thoughts and feelings,' says Chiu, a creative media graduate.

She hit upon a collaborative exhibition to demonstrate how closely they were related. Poets contributing to the event would be paired with designers, who would create items inspired by the poems.

Together with her three partners at Totit, a collective selling hand-painted tote bags online, Chiu recruited a poet friend, Lau Chi-wan, and then the editors of the Chinese literary journal, Fleurs des Lettres.

The result is Poetic Life, a three-day exhibition to be staged over the Easter weekend, which will feature the work of 11 poets - mostly young writers such as Yiu Sheung-yee, Luk Wing-yu and Jennifer Joyce Ngo - and an equal number of craft or design outfits including Black Sheep Barn and Loso.

By bringing together poetry and handicraft, the organisers hope their exhibition can broaden enthusiasts' interest in both mediums, which have been relegated to the fringes of a society now largely hooked on instant gratification. 'Handicraft lovers will come for our crafts market where they can be introduced to the local poetry and vice versa,' says Chiu.

Outlets for poetry are certainly limited. There are a few literary journals, such as Fleurs des Lettres and Qiu Ying Shi Kan, and readings organised by magazines, universities and groups such as Kubrick Poetry. But Hong Kong poets mostly circulate their work on internet forums and their own blogs.

Louise Law Lok-man, an editor at Fleurs des Lettres, laments the declining interest in poetry. 'It's true that poems take time to read and digest, they are not easy reading. But those few, often simple, words contain a rich imagination and are works that literature lovers should not miss,' she says. 'Sadly, people nowadays don't have much awareness of poetry.'

Poet Kitty Hung Hiu-han, also an editor at Fleurs des Lettres, adds: 'Poetry isn't abstruse because it is rooted in our daily life. The morning dew and setting sun, all are poetic to me. But many people fail to notice because they don't bother to look.'

Handicrafts have recently enjoyed a revival of sorts through regular craft markets in Central, Tai Hang and Shek Kip Mei, buoyed by word-of-mouth recommendations on blogs and social networks.

Although not a craft enthusiast, Law, too, appreciates having greater variety. 'I'm bored of shopping in department stores for identical products. Handmade items are so much more diverse. These pieces are unique, you can't find something similar elsewhere.'

'Poets and crafts people are both sensitive to life, documenting feelings in our creations - what we see, hear, smell and taste. It's only a difference of medium,' says Yiu Sheung-yee, a book editor with a publishing company who regularly posts her poetry on her blog.

Still, many designers find it a challenge to work an interpretation of the poems into their handicraft.

'It's not a one-man show. The result combines the input of the craftsman, the poet as well as the audience because of the way they see the work in their own imagination,' says Joey Chung Ho-yee, a member of Totit.

Accessories maker Lee Mei-ki, who was paired with Yiu, created rings set with canvas squares embroidered with colourful Chinese characters. The rings are displayed with Lee's calligraphy recreating excerpts from one of Yiu's poems about an afternoon in solitude.

Partnered with Lau, the Totit team - all are recent creative media graduates from City University - came up with a tote inscribed with the words, 'I have bought a poem from...' Chiu says: 'The idea is that when you buy a tote from us, you have also bagged a poem.'

'It's a vivid way to bring poetry into our daily life,' says Lau, 33, a television drama writer who has published three volumes of poetry.

Violet Chan Hoi-man of Loso Shop used a hand-painted clock to represent the passing of time depicted by Ngo's poem, Coming from Earth. 'I don't have to visualise each word; I just use a free flow of colours to interpret the poem,' says Chan.

Addis Fung Yiu-fai designed a set of rubber stamps to echo Lam Pang's poem about people giving up their dreams and surrendering to pragmatism.

Renting a commercial space in Wan Chai from a friend, Chiu has transformed the 700-sq-ft utilitarian office into a cosy living room using furniture - sofa, shelves, even a vintage piano - contributed by friends and family. The poems are showcased in various places - on a mouse pad, music sheet holder and in photo frames. 'We want to create a homey ambience so people can visit, be inspired and simply have fun,' Chung says.

Lau says this creative approach will help poets reach out to a broader and younger audience.

'Usually readers find poetry sophisticated and difficult to get into. Now the designers have provided the audience an alternative way to read poems, or a chance to be surrounded by it,' she says.

The collaboration has already rubbed off on the designers. Totit will be launching a line of hand-painted bags featuring local poems.

'You don't necessarily need to buy a book of poetry. If readers can find some excerpts they like at the exhibition, or see it on our tote bags, they may be intrigued enough to look for the rest of the poem themselves,' says Lau.

'I hope the event brings long-term publicity for local poetry. We've built up a network with poets and craftspeople which will bring more inspiration for both parties,' says Chiu.

Chiu and her partners are enjoying the experience so much they are planning a similar event involving independent musicians.

'Previously markets didn't have a theme. It would be great if we could get more different creative units working with each other. It will certainly have a one-plus-one-equals-three effect,' says Chung.

Poetic Lifestyle, Fri, 2pm-8pm, Sat-Apr 4, noon-6pm, U/G, Kwong Sang Hong Building, 6 Heard Street, Wan Chai, admission free. Inquiries: totit-home.blogspot.com