Session 10: Portrait Sketches

Posted January 20, 2007 by Sahar
Categories: Community, Sessions

People around us are full of narratives, images, widsom, secrets and histories. This session nurtures young writer’s to look deeply at the people around them – a friend, a lover, an enemy, a family member, a stranger, a mentor, a neighbor, a confidant – and see their everyday nuances, habits, gestures, appearences, and words as a vessels of poetic promise. Through this session writers will hone their observation skills and their grasp to detail. It will also facilitate young writers to realize the deep and multi-layered ‘world’ contained within each individual. In the Portrait Sketches session we want to puncture through a standard one-dimensonal understanding of a person and re-see and re-write the normal and mundane into unique truths.

We’ve faciliated this session only with Sanlaap and DIKSHA during our first phase of workshops in 2004-05. The discussion was highly enjoyed by both groups, but we weren’t successful in nourshing a deeper exploration of individuals in our portraits. Our discussions were a little one-dimensional, as were the poems written for the session. So this time around, we’ve changed Session 10 in order to systematically guide writers collectively and individually to  transform the mundane and average descripton into a rich and nuanced  portrait of a person in our life.

For a printable version of this session, click on Session 10: Portrait Sketches.


See attached poem “Grandpa”


Observation Game
Two people from the group volunteer. One of them is the ‘Object’, the other ‘Subject’. The ‘Subject’ has 30 seconds to observe the Object as minutely as possible. Then the Subject goes out of the room, and the workshop facilitator or any other volunteer makes a tiny change in the clothing of the Object: a button is unfastened, a sleeve rolled up, a wrist band moved from one wrist to the other etc. Then the Subject returns and has to guess what was changed. In the next round, two different people volunteer. After a couple of rounds, add variety by changing not the clothing, but the position of the arms or legs, or better still, the expression on the face.
The aim of the game is twofold: to improve observation skills, and to make a point about how many different details there are that make up a person’s appearance.


Writing about People
Among things central to our existence are people and our relationships with them. Writing about life includes writing about people. Today we shall concentrate on writing a portrait sketch of a person.
Writing about a person requires great skills in observation. The more detailed the observation, the most realistic the description will be. (Refer to the warm up). The description must paint a picture in front of the reader’s/listener’s eyes. Although in describing someone convincingly it is not necessary to write everything about the person, it is however important that the most characteristic and unique features of that person be identified and rendered into words.


Describing your Friend
Divide the group into teams of five/six.
Choose one person from each team who will be described by the others in the minutest possible way. Assign each person in the team (except obviously the person who is being described) a different aspect to describe.The possible aspects are:

Face/Head: “black close-cropped hair,”“large ears that jut out,” “small dark eyes that dart around”

Hands: “forearms with thick curly hair,” “manicured nails,” “a silver ring with a green stone” etc.

Sounds: Typical things one says, expressions or grunts etc.

Texture: “The skin on the feet is coarse,” “hair is smooth and soft,” “cheeks are smooth with just one outgrown pimple on the left one,” etc.

Clothes: “T-shirt with red and white horizontal stripes, white buttons, one of which is missing”, “khaki coloured loose three-quarter pants”, “orange belt with five holes in it” etc.

Habits: “asks for tea every 45 minutes”, “mutters in his sleep”, “doesn’t want to wake up in the morning”, “mimics film stars every now and then” etc.

Emotions: How the person behave once (s)he is happy or sad or angry or disappointed etc.

Favourites: What are some of the person’s favourite dishes or movies or books? Are there any particular objects specific to the person, like a red notebook, or a pair of blue socks?

Some Points to Keep in Mind

This exercise should not take more than 20 minutes.

The facilitator(s) must stress on the importance of details, and encourage the participants to observe as closely as possible and look for newer things that (s)he hadn’t noticed in the person before. It is necessary to guide participants through the exercise by closely following developments every now and then.

The facilitator(s) must also emphasize that the description, though truthful, must not be in any manner derogatory or embarrassing for the person being described. Use discretion while describing.


Group Reading
Read Sample Poem: ‘Grandfather’.

Writing Activity: Portrait Sketch
Choose a person you want to make a portrait sketch of. It is important that you choose someone who is not terribly intimate with you, nor totally unknown or unrelated. There needs to be a certain closeness yet a certain detachment. This makes a good portrait sketch.

Once the person of choice has been finalized by each participant, they must make notes from memory of the clothes that person normally wears, the things (s)he often or most characteristically says, and what the most characteristic features of her/his appearance are.

The poem will have three stanzas of five lines each:

Stanza 1: Description of clothes
Stanza 2: Sounds/Speech associated with person
Stanza 3: Description of the face, including, preferably, a mention of the eyes.

Each stanza must have at least one metaphor/simile comparing at least one aspect of the personality with something meaningful: What is her/his voice like when (s)he says “Get out of here” or “What a strange world!”? What is her sari like, or his flowing hair? Etc.


Old outdated flip-flops discoloured into a now-unchanging grey,
Starched white pajamas,
Starched white kurta,
A beige overcoat wrapping him like a coffin;
The oppressive smell of snuff on a snuff-coloured handkerchief that once was white.

The arrogant taps of a wooden stick,
And the asthmatic growls of a tired aged lion
On a generation gone to waste:
“You boys never read what you oughtta read
Never learn what you oughtta learn!”

Platinum hair thinned into the relic of a forest,
Platinum beard always three days old,
Thick black frames sheltering eyes
That look like the Milky Way
And speak of a certain sadness almost a century old.

Bishan Samaddar


Go around the room and ask the group to “sign” how they felt about this session. Thumb up, Great Session. Thumbs Down, Bad Session. Thumbs Sideways, So-so session.

Not to be used or reproduced without written permission from Kalam: Margins Write unless it is for educational purposes.


Portrait Sketch Poem Conversation

Posted December 20, 2006 by Bishan
Categories: Ideas

Hi all:

This poem definitely looks like something we could work around. I remember that the last time we did this session on portrait sketch we used a vignette by Sandra Cisneros. Although it was a moving bit of literature, it wasn’t a terribly good model for the generation of a workshop poem. Hence, we do not have a single workshop poem from this session.

The portrait poems that I have come across in Bengali books of poetry are either esoteric or “meant for children”. I like this poem that Sahar has put up simply because it has a ring of truth and lack of pretence.

We can break the intended portrait poem into sections like ‘Appearance’, ‘Habits’, ‘Things (s)he says’ etc. and devote three/four lines to each section. And then maybe round it off with one line stressing on the writer’s relationship with the subject of the portrait.

Will try to come up with a sample poem.

What do you think?

Thinking Portrait Poems

Posted November 17, 2006 by Sahar
Categories: Ideas

I’ve been exploring possibilities for a session on Portrait poems. In DIKSHA and Sanlaap we facilitated a Portrait Poem Session which didn’t fly too well with participants. The discussion was good and enjoyable, but the the entire session didn’t insitigate writing as well as we hoped.

I’ve been looking around in books and web resources for inspring poems that we could model after. I found a poem written by a young person on a random website I came across, which is something that we could possibly be used as a model poem. (Note, the context of the poem is very “american,” but I’m interested in the thematic structure as a model.)


The man with the black pants

Is the one with a voice like brass

He is baseball and lottery tickets

Board games and bricks

He says do your homework

But after a quick game of catch

He reads the paper and works today

He is stocks and pens

A closed door and a phone

He says work hard

Get a good job

Who used to play and sing

Who screams and shouts

Whose eyes are big and wide

Who remembers the time

He is laughter and salt water taffy

An old brown car and a baseball mitt

Who asks me,

Who’s up for a game of catch?

by Andrew Hill grade 9

However, at the same time, I’m wondering if there are poems in the vernacular (Bangla or Hindi) that we could find use as a example poems and then try to build a session around it. Of course, its always been challenging in the past to locate such poems. But lets keep searching.

Folks faciliating workshops on the ground, do you guys have thoughts or ideas?

Poetry on the Platform

Posted September 5, 2006 by Sahar
Categories: Youth


Last year, from May to October 2005, Kalam facliitated Writing Out with young boys who live and work on Malda railway platform. Manoj (below) and Raju (above) were also participants. This workshop took place in association with Praajak.


The Conundrum with Ten

Posted September 1, 2006 by Sahar
Categories: Reflections

From the Session 1 to Session 9, our past workshop experiences were consistent throughout facilitations with DIKSHA, Sanlaap, Vikramshila, Save the Children, and Praajak. After facilitating Writing Out with these five groups, the first nine sessions have been challenged, revised and ‘tested’ and semi-concretized (for a lack of a better word) with on-the-ground-experience. So from the “Introduction to Poetry” until “Home” we think we’ve got our plan pretty much set. But after that we’re a little unsure as to which is the best way to proceed forward with Writing Out. The session after the ‘Home’ session, which in this case, happens to be Session 10 – the midway mark of Writing Out – is a whole new story on the curriculum design front. Its a story with more uncertainty and a great deal of experiment and possiblity.

So this is how its been: Session 10 with Sanlaap and DIKSHA was different than the Session 10 that occured with Vikramshila. Save the Childrens’ Session 10 is also different. And Praajak’s, of course, is far different. All the past Sesssion 10s vary in theme from each other, ranging from Portrait Sketches, the Nation, I Remember, to others. And yet, with all these different Session 10s, we can’t quite seem to figure out which version is the best way to go. And whatever we determine as Session 10 — again,the great half-way mark — the rest of the curriculum will evolve accordingly. So its pivotal. There are certain themes I know need to be included in the future sessions — The Nation, I Remember, Masks?, Lost and Found, Personal Inventory, Local History. But whats the best order? And what should be in between these sessions. And which one of these falls into the phase, ‘Community?’ And which into the last phase, ‘The World.’

So, the conundrum ten is: what should Session 10 look like? I don’t want to jump to Nation, not yet. Something tells me we need something in between Home and Nation. Portrait Sketches may be interesting. Its wasn’t such a bumper hit with DIKSHA and Sanlaap, and we never tried it with any other group. Maybe we should try revising Portrait Sketches. I feel its important for us to facilitate a session where we pause and focus on one individual in our life who affects us. Or, maybe we should go to Local History? I don’t know.

Feeling confused and hopeful with possibilty for Ten.

Session 9: Home

Posted August 25, 2006 by Sahar
Categories: Community, Sessions

In this session we dare to re-vision what the world calls to be ‘home’. We engage in a discussion thinking about the images and conventions we see in popular culture which represent home, and think about the diverse reality and possibilties of actual homes. We prefer to open this session without any introduction or discussion and simply engage in the first activity without explaination, allowing the participants to discover the theme on their own. Its through the first activity – Role Plays on Homes – that the participants began to organically analyze the notions of home through discussion and dialouge.

As for the writing activity, in the past, we’ve tried many different writing activities in this session but nothing has proved to be popular and effective across the board. With DIKSHA and Sanlaap we did a writing activity modelling Sandra Cisneros’ vignette “My Home.” Although the past participants found this poem to be a powerful read, few participants were able to model a poem after it. So, instead, the writing activity we’ve chosen to post on this blog is an activity we tested with Praajak and Vikramshila. It is a guided poem activity very similar to the writing activities in previous sessions like “Family” or “Emotions.” We’re not completely satisfied with this writing activity for this session — in some ways we wonder if its getting repetitive. At the same time, the poems that emerged from this writing process were excellent in past, especially when we conducted this activity with boys living on railway platforms. But, again, we still wonder, is the process too repetitive, espeically for a really mature and initated group? Must keep thinking and experimenting….

For printable version of this session, click on Session 9: Home


Magazines or Newspaper cuttings representing stereotypical family images. (Recommended)




Lights! Camera! Action! Note to Facilitators: For this opening this activity, we actually ask facilitators not to introduce this activity in context of theme, “home.” We want the participants to uncover (and eventually problemitize) the theme on their own through these roleplay. So, dive straight into the activity simply as role plays. We suggest this because we don’t want to bias participants into defining what creates a “home.” They decipher the notion of home this independently in the follow-up disussion.

  1. Divide the participants into groups of three or four.

  2. Assign each group with a Scene Depiction from the options below and ask the group to create a role play around that situation. Tell groups that the situations provided is simply the bare bones. They are do add conflict, narrative, or twists as they want within the situation provided.

  3. Ask groups to not shared their assigned situations with other groups. Keep it secret.

  4. Once each group is ready, enact the scenes. Keep all comments, reactions for the follow-up discussion.

Scene Depictions

A. A grandfather, mother, father, son, and daughter in a small rented home. They are having dinner.

B. Single mother and daughter in a rental room. They are having dinner.

C. Young wo/man living in a government hostle. S/he is having dinner.

D. Same-sex couple in a flat. They are having dinner.


Frame a discussion analyzing the Role Plays and problemtizing the stereotypical notions of Home. Use the following questions to prompt dialogue. The questions we’ve provided here will help participants analyze the construction of HOME and deconstruct it. Makes this discussion as conversational and participatory as possible.

1. What do all these scenes depict?

2. What do they have in common?

3. Do you think each of these situations represent HOMES?

4. What makes a Home?

  • Specific Individuals?
  • Specific Relationships?
  • Specific Spaces? (Stable, unstable, permanent, temporary?)

5. How does the world define Home?

  • Think of magazines, ads, and stories. (Use the optional materials)
  • Think of Images from popular films. (Hum Apke Hai Koun? Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gam, Baaghban)

6. Are the patterns, images, definitions we see in popular culture REALISTIC? Are they UNIVERSIAL?

Lets think of our own personal Homes…..

When you physically go Home (or the place you live, or the place you want to call home), do you experience the assumptions the world makes about home (love, peace, restfulness)?· What other feelings do you also experience? Think of negative feelings.

Facilitator’s Message: Home is any place you choose, it can look like anything, it can give refuge to whatever combinations of people – same-sex partners, friends, or just you! A home is a place of both negative and positive, and both the positive and negative make you grow.


My Home

Pick a place where you feel completely yourself – a place you can claims as you own, a place where you don’t edit yourself. It doesn’t have to be the place you live; it can be a clubhouse, a store, a friend’s place. Write a descriptive poem about that place. If needed, use this structure to write the poem, or use it simply to get started:

1. Sight

2. Touch in Hands

3. Where you are, exactly

4. Feeling you have inside

5. “And this is my Home…”


Go around the room and ask the group to “sign” how they felt about this session. Thumb up, Great Session. Thumbs Down, Bad Session. Thumbs Sideways, So-so session.

Not to be used or reproduced without written permission from Kalam: Margins Write unless it is for educational purposes.

Session 8: Family

Posted August 24, 2006 by Sahar
Categories: Community, Sessions

This session opens the second thematic phase of Writing Out: Community. In this session we re-define family by understanding family not in terms of relationships of blood, but relationships of support. After the opening discussion, we suggest you spend time on the Interactive Activity of creating the unconvenationl family tree — it allows writers to to choose their family and understand how family is what we make it to be. The writing activity, inspired by Sandra Cisneros’ Hairs, insitgates participants to introduce their family in a more poetic and meaningful way, which in turn pushes the writer to reflect over their family relationships with greater depth and meaning. This poem can be challenging for many new writers, so we are providing an optional guided appraoch to the poem. However, in the past, some iniated groups of writers found the guided process tedious. So see what works for your group and go from there.

For a printable version of this session, click on Session 8: Family


1. General Art Supplies (Pens, Crayons, etc)

2. Blank sheets of Paper


Opposite Sides

Have all participants gather in the center of the room. Tell the participants that you will announce two opposite (or semi-contrasting) words – one opposite belonging to one side of the room, the other opposite belong to the to the other side of the room. (They will know which opposite is which side, because you will simply POINT). When the group hears both opposites (or again, sem-contrasting words), they should run towards the side of the room designated to the opposite they have more affinity to. After each pair of opposites has been announced, and participants have made their choice, look around to see your fellow participants choices and then return to the center Its enjoyable to this activity listing out the opposites with great speed.

Some examples, (Bus/Auto Rickshaw – Shahrukh/Abhishek – poetry/short stories – mobiles/public phones – Summer/Winter – Barefeet/Shoes)


1. Lets talk Family Start a discussion on the concept of Family. Open the discussion by asking participants “Who is in your Family?” Try to deconstruct the concept of family through questions like: What defines family? Blood? Living Vicinity? Love? Do any of you have stronger relationship with individuals who are beyond the conventional definition of family? Let the discussion evolve. The main goal for the discussion is to come to a collective understanding that family does not mean “MOTHER, FATHER, SISTER, BROTHER.” Rather family means individuals who are close to our heart, individuals who play are part in making us who we are.

2. Family Tree Pass out blank sheets of paper and art supplies. Ask the group to think about who they consider to be apart of their personal family (in terms of the previous discussion.) Have the participants make a Family Tree for themselves. This tree is not a conventional family tree consisting and limited to uncles, grandparents, etc. This Family Tree should consist of individuals who play a role in the participant’s life — some one who you thin has contributed in who are you today. These “family members” could be friends, neighbors, teachers, mentors, etc. If the participants want, they can associate they’re chosen family member into branches, roots, flowers, fallen leaves, as a way of defining what role that family member has played in their life. Facilitator’s Note: Sometimes its helpful to bring in an example family tree that you have made and share it with the group. Or, quickly create your own family tree on paper in front of the group, just so they get an idea.


Group Reading

Read “Hairs” by Sandra Cisneros from The House on Mango Street. Discuss the poem with the group and ask the possible guiding questions:

1. Ask the group for initial reactions.

2. How does the narrator introduce her family? How is it different than conventional introductions?

3. As readers, do we feel we get a better understanding of the narrator’s family members? How?

4. From the narrator’s writing, what can we make out of the type of relationship the narrator has with her Mom?

5. Discuss how the use of specific similes and metaphors are reflective each family’s characteristics.

Writing Activity: “Body Part” Poem

We are all going to write a poem modeling “Hairs” — except we will write about our own family members, and instead of writing about our family’s “hair,” we can pick any one body part that we feel comfortable and confident writing about (eyes, fingers, feet, etc). Ask the writers to pick up to four members from their family tree and write a poem modeling “Hairs.” If you the group needs to be guided into the writing this poems, follow the optional Guided Writing Activity.

Optional Guided Writing Activity

Pass out Blank sheets of Paper

1. Fold your 8×10 sheet of paper once horizontally and once vertically, creating 4 equally divided squares. Open the piece of paper.

2. Think of the one body part you will write about – and write it on the top of your sheet.

3. In each box of your sheet, write the name of one family member you will write about. Each box should contain the name of a different family member.

4. In each of the boxes (which now have names of family members) answer the following questions in each box for each family member’s name written.

  • Describe the nature of this family member. (Serious, Humourous, Light, Bitter, Carefree, Tense, Angry at the world, etc)
  • Describe the physical characteristic of the chosen body part (written at the top of the sheet) for this family member. (Eyebrows – thick, messy, dark brown)
  • What does the chosen body part of this family member look/smell/sound/feel like? (Think 5 senses)

5. After you have written the answers to the probes above for each of your chosen family member, you will realize that you have all the raw material you need to write your own “Body Part” poem.



Go around the room and ask the group to “sign” how they felt about this session. Thumb up, Great Session. Thumbs Down, Bad Session. Thumbs Sideways, So-so session.

Not to be used or reproduced without written permission from Kalam: Margins Write unless it is for educational purposes.