I first heard of Sharpened Word, dubbed as an Ipoh-based event to open up the writer’s world to the world at large, sometime early last year.

I reacted with joy at first. Ipoh could sure do with an injection in the cultural and literary scene. Not that we lack creative talent, but Ipoh people can be – how shall I put it – a little laidback when it comes to driving and supporting such events.

Then came the doubts. Who would have the drive and energy to push it through?

Enter Pak Peter, short for “Grandpa” Peter in vernacular lingo. Whether it is the fabled water, the incomparable white coffee or the profusion of fair skinned leng luis, Ipoh has managed to attract some of the world’s top talents. Peter Bucher (his real name) is a Swiss-born former hotelier who yearns to see Ipoh fulfil its potential because, as he puts it, he is a “Perakean by choice”.

I do not know if he is a grandfather, but I do know that he has the semangat (spirit) of a man half his age. It can’t be an easy task to persuade authors who live outstation to make the journey to Ipoh on a Saturday afternoon and speak to a roomful (or not so full) of strangers, month after month.

Despite this, Sharpened Word has marched confidently into its fifth session last February 20th, a session I had the honour of sharing with three immmensely talented writers: Chua Kok Yee, Ted Mahsun and Tany Leia Harris.

It being my first time attending the event, I was blown away by:

* The meticulously organized program that was rich both in content as well as entertainment value. Let’s be frank: if it’s boring, nobody will come (or stay to the end). I was glad that everyone was glued to their seats, thanks to the careful planning of each session, which features a mix of seasoned and new writers for different perspectives.
* Their brilliant choice of venue in Sepaloh Art Gallery, one of Ipoh’s finest examples of well-restored architecture. It’s a place that you walk into and feel awed and inspired. Exactly what we need to foster a lively and active discourse.
* The professional emcee. May Foo – who was so good I thought she could be on Oprah – she kept us on our toes with thought provoking questions that showed she not only did her homework but understood her subject matter very well.

This wouldn’t have been possible without the team of invisible elves who have been helping Pak Peter. You have the terrific PR/marketing copywriter in playwright Charmalee Sivapragasam, who puts together all the communications; CO Lo the photo/video -grapher; Nur Aida the facilitator and Mai Palmer, guardian of the all-important donation box.

Speaking of which, I’d like to mention that this gig has NO external funding whatsoever, except for the ringgits deposited into a donation box at the end of every session. For that matter, souvenirs for authors are totally dependent on public largesse. I was super lucky that for my session, we got a lovely souvenir in the form of an absolutely gorgeous coffeetable book donated by photographer CO.

Sharpened Word is important because it answers the question: does Ipoh have a literary scene? Ipoh has consistently produced artists, writers, and filmmakers through the decades and Sharpened Word supports budding talents by providing a platform for novice writers. Writers read from their work whether prose, poetry or play and then they participate in a question-and-answer session on their writing process.

Parents and teachers, if you have or know of children who are aspiring writers, this is the place to bring them on Saturday afternoons for a fun, enriching session where you can pick the brains of writers who are all happy to share their experiences and knowledge in the writing industry.

And to writers who’d like to read for Sharpened Word, Pak Peter tells me he has a bunch of writers lined up till August (!!) so let him know quickly if you are interested!!

Thank you Pak Peter. I am honoured to have been part of Sharpened Word and may it continue to grow in strength, reach and impact.

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(From L-R): Ted Mahsun, Chua Kok Yee, yours truly, and Tany Leia Harris

 

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