“The secret is not in knowing how to pick someone's lock;the secret is knowing how to get them to open the door for you.”
The lines above have been borrowed from the poem “The Secret” by Ross Sutherland.
I had an opportunity to meet the poet in person at an interactive session on September 20, at The Daily Star Centre in Dhaka. With his bright demeanour and engaging smile, needless to say, the tousled-haired poet knew the secret to get anybody to open their doors for him.
The session opened with the usual jollity from Syed Badrul Ahsan, executive editor of The Daily Star. Eeshita Azad, of The British Council, followed with a brief introduction on the poet.
The British Council had invited Sutherland to Bangladesh for a poetry showcase, which comprised three sessions with 10 candidates who were thoroughly screened for their poetic potency.
Born in Edinburgh in 1979, Ross Sutherland is a multifaceted individual. One of the youngest contemporary poets of today, Sutherland was included in The Times' list of Top Ten Literary Stars of 2008. He is also a journalist, teacher and a filmmaker.
At the impressionable age of 15, Sutherland encountered his life's first live poetry reading by John Cooper Clarke, a punk-poet. For someone who had always wanted to be a computer programmer, it was a day that destiny brought about a twist to his fate. He decided to become a poet.
“The experience had a very powerful effect on me,” said Sutherland.
At 17, Sutherland began performing poetry alongside his revered poet Clarke. In 2000, he became one of the founding members of the live poetry collective, Aisle16. A self-proclaimed video game fanatic, he has recently completed a thesis on computer-generated poetry and writes univocalisms -- poems written using only one vowel. Seems like an impossible task to do? Also a puzzle geek, Ross Sutherland, enjoys undertaking such challenges.
“If I try to tackle my thoughts face on, I instantly hit the floor. For me, poetry is a puzzle to be solved,” Sutherland said.
Since 2003, he has co-written six live literature productions, including “Poetry Boyband” (Time Out Critic's Choice of 2005) and “Services to Poetry”, Aisle 16's video-travelogue of Britain's motorway service stations. He has three collections of poetry: “Things to Do Before You Leave Town” (2009), “Twelve Nudes” (2010), and “Hyakuretsu Kyaku” (2011).
He also has a new documentary about whether computers will ever be able to write poetry -- “Every Rendition on a Broken Machine” (2011).
“To be honest, I always wanted to combine the two: poetry and computing! That's why I've spent years trying to get a computer programme to write my poetry for me,” he said.
His latest collection, “My Book of Street Fighter Sonnets”, comprises 12 illustrated sonnets, each based on a character from the hugely popular video game “Street Fighter”.
“Growing up I did not have much knowledge on classics, including Greek mythology. I used to find myself quite lost while studying those characters at school. While teaching, I found children today are struggling with the same problem,” Sutherland said.
“So I thought, let's borrow a mythology we know,” he added with a twinkle in his eye.
Another innovative project he talked about was “The Poetry Takeaway”: “world's first, purpose-built mobile poetry emporium”. It is modelled on a typical burger van, and is manned by a cast of poets who write, perform and deliver a hand-written copy of the poem a customer orders.
“It produces free, made-to-order poetry, delivered to the anxious consumer within ten minutes or less. The topic can range from 'My dead budgerigar' to fiendishly difficult titles like 'Grandmother in a bag and heading for the river',” said a laughing Sutherland.
On this project Sutherland has worked closely with Tim Claire, who writes 100 poems a day!
When asked how he would define a good poem, Sutherland said, “Good poems come from the people who break rules.”
Unlike most writers and poets who prefer silence and solitude while working, Sutherland loves chaos.
“Left alone in the middle of nowhere is the worst possible thing I can imagine. I love interference while I work,” Sutherland said.
Seems like he has come to the right place for inspiration, because Dhaka would give him chaos, if not, anything else.
“I have enjoyed the experience very much. Next time I plan to stay longer,” he said. Sutherland is expected to return to Dhaka for another showcase on October 20, this year.