The Vehement Rhythm: India in the World of Poetry Slam
For many of us, our relationship with poetry dies a slow death once we pass out of our junior college! Let’s admit it, not all of us entertain fragile dreams like that of growing up to become a ‘bard’. However, those who dream, truly get mesmerized with this form of writing. As Rudyard Kipling says, “Words are, of course, the most powerful drugs used by mankind”. Poets use these drugs to express things that are said, and at times, unsaid.
Poetries have a tendency to fall from a common person’s patronage. Especially, those who do not have much in common with the written word. Over the years, even poetry groups that earlier used to gather religiously for narration sessions, must have started feeling the monotony somewhere. It was sometime in the mid-80s that a new concept of poetry narration seeded in Chicago. Marc Smith, a construction worker began hosting poetry readings in a Jazz club. This club brought in just one difference – the poets competed against each other as if in a fight and the audience was the judge. This prompted poets to perform instead of just reading the poems. Using expressions, tone changes, and through the dint of mannerisms of body language – often vehement, poets infused a much-needed spark in the otherwise calm words falling on deaf ears. Poetry Slam was born!
More like a movement in poetry during the 90s in America, it was only a decade and a half later that poetry slam found a foothold in India – it began being taken seriously. In the mid-2000s, the Bombay Elektrik Projekt, an event management company, hosted dedicated poetry slam events in Mumbai and Delhi. This turned out to be a major move for poetry slam in India. Today, the platform is called Poetry on the Big Mic. This event is hosted fortnightly at The Hive, in Khar, Mumbai. These events truly popularized poetry slam in India.
In the year 2013, final year law students from Pune, Shantanu Anand and Nandini Varma came up with the Airplane Poetry Movement (APM). An amazing platform that helps many Spoken Word Poets in showcasing their work, APM conducts many offline events and workshops in more than 7 cities, including Delhi and Mumbai.
Our Capital has also displayed a keen interest in poetry slam, courtesy The Delhi Poetry Slam (DPS). Incepted in 2013, DPS has since held various slam poetry events across India. From an initial gathering of a handful people at the Kunzum Café, Delhi, the event quickly boomed where by the end of the year, DPS managed to organize a ticketed poetry slam event in Delhi.
Here’s a video of one of the performers at a slam poetry event in Delhi. Rene Verma openly picks on Honey Singh’s misogynistic lyrics while also criticizing the portrayal of women in our society today. Further, in March 2014, DPS also held an international poetry slam jam in India that saw 8 performers gracing the event.
Poetry slams in Delhi were also popularized by Nicole Sumner (Seatle’s first Grand Slam Poetry Mistress), and she has been an active participant in the poetry slam events in Delhi. “Performing the spoken word is all about hooking the audience, whether it be by talking about a hot button issue or by taking something familiar and reworking it to make it your own. People with a theatre background often find it easier to emote and enact”, says Nicole.
Indeed, spoken word poetry is energetic, spontaneous, and it instantly connects with the audience. Making you sit up, shut up and listen is something few performances harness with such elan and power. More often than not, it brings out a heady concoction of vulnerability and the immeasurable strength of spirit in the speakers, as they bring to the fore their unadulterated personal thoughts. In a way, it works miracles; as the rest gathered at the event feel inescapably immersed.
Perry Menzies, who runs the café Urban Solace in Ulsoor, Bangalore, has helped many poetry enthusiasts by hosting poetry slam events at his cafe. Likewise, Atta Galatta, a book-store in Koramangala, also hosts Let Poetry Be, poetry slam sessions. In fact, Airplane Poetry Movement’s first event was held at Atta Galatta. Perry says that Bangaloreans were exposed to the idea of poetry slam through American and Australian poets who performed in the city.
Poetry slam in India is slowly but surely growing in popularity. Indubitably it’s a perfect platform for poets to hone their histrionic skills, develop their thoughts and voice their opinions. Most importantly, this new-age style of poetry breaks the traditional norm of reading poetry, and are performance poetry sessions.
A peek into a fiery performance by Rene Sharanya Verma, the poet that caught the poetry world’s imagination as she took on the notoriously misogynistic lyrics churned out by the ‘rap’ star Yo Yo Honey Singh.
Be sure not to miss a chance to get all riled up when these ‘bards’ come performing next in your city.
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