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Listen Up, Folks!
Violet Vaz | Saturday, 31 May 2014 AT 08:13 PM IST
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There’s a new movement in town that’s encouraging young, creative minds to step up to the mike and express themselves through poetry. Performed with passion, aimed at provoking a response from the audience, poetry slam is surely hard to ignore. Violet Vaz reports

We didn’t cry for the imaginary friends that passed away.Now we wish we had their graves to lay flowers upon.For the only ones who could understand us would be ourselves.And yet so far removed from ourselves. Like imaginary friends.

It’s one thing to read these lines in quietude, and quite another to hear them being performed animatedly in front of a crowd. Like Srijan Dubey, an engineering student who has penned the above lines, there are poets — full of hope, hurt, anger, rebellion, politics, love — who convey their feelings with such passionate force, you are woken up from your comfortable numbness. They are all young and not content with the world as it is. And they need a place to speak up, give an expression to their concerns. Poetry slam provides them just that. Spoken-word poetry is the new buzz in this youthful town, and open mics are attracting many a new talent to open up and say it out aloud. “For the initial first few slams, I used to sit as a part of the audience,” says 24-year-old Fizza Shaida, adding, “Watching others perform with such conviction was so inspiring, that I too decided to pen down a few poems and perform.” Many like her and Srijan have come together to form a group called the Pune Poetry Slam.

PERFORMING POETS

Manasi Nene, all of 18 years of age, is a big fan of spoken word poetry herself. She decided to take the initiative to form the group and organise regular monthly poetry slams. “I used to spend hours watching poetry slam videos on YouTube and after a lot of thought, I finally decided to organise a small poetry slam, so that other poets like myself could come together and meet up and perform,” says Manasi, who just gave her 12th board examination. The Pune Poetry Slam group met for the first time in November last year. “I uploaded a Facebook status with a venue and a time, inviting budding slam poets from across the city. I was surprised to find a crowd of about 30-35 young people at the venue, most of whom weren’t even known to me. The word spread around really quickly,” says Manasi. Since then, the group has been regularly meeting every month and performing poetry slams across the city. A few members of the group also performed at the poetry slam organised at One Lounge during the Art Hop event organised in April this year.Know Your Slam

The origin of slam poetry can be traced back to 1984, when Marc Smith (who initially experimented with poetry and cabaret style performing arts) started a poetry reading series at a jazz club in Chicago. When asked what exactly is poetry slamming all about, Srijan answers, “Drawing influence from rap, classical poetry and literature, a poetry slam is a competitive poetry reading in which poets perform their own writings for scores. Slams are open and democratic in nature; anyone who wishes to sign up for the competition can.” He informs us that they randomly pick up judges from the audience and that each slam poet has a time limit of three minutes to perform their piece. The main aim of a slam poet is to engage and elicit a response from the audience whether it is for applause (or boos), score or mere persuasion. A slam poet can carry his/her text on stage or memorise their poetry and perform it, he adds. “Apart from the poetry slams, the group also organises workshops on performing a slam and open mic sessions where members can recite their poetry and ask for feedback from the audience,” says Manasi. “Some people love the dramatic element,” she adds, “And such events bring together all kinds of people — even those who might not have an interest in poetry.”

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

“As a youngster, you have a lot to say about many things and your personal experiences. Writing poetry and performing it out for an audience gives me an outlet to express myself knowing that I will be heard,” says Srijan. He informs us that usually slam poets adopt different themes in their work — comic, dramatic, sensual, personal or even political. Chanrakant Redican, a slam poet and founder of NGO Vanarati Foundation was the first in the group to perform a slam in Marathi. “The response I have received has been overwhelming. There is a lot of difference between the spoken Marathi and the written language. By performing my slam in conversational Marathi, I was able to connect better with the audience,” says Chandrakant. Although the technique of poetry slam may have originated in the West, he feels we must use it to suit our culture and expression.

SLAMMING IT RIGHT

The Airplane Poetry Movement, co-founded by Shantanu Anand and Nandini Varma, has been helping youngsters to freely express themselves at slam poetry. “Since there is no poetry movement on the national front, we decided to form the Airplane Poetry Movement where we help other youngsters like ourselves in spoken word poetry,” says 21 -year-old Shantanu. He and Nandini, both students from the ILS Law college, have been conducting workshops and organising poetry slams in Mumbai, Bangalore and Delhi. “In Pune, we have collaborated with the Pune Poetry Slam group and have conducted some fun and exciting workshops with them. The workshops cover writing tips for slam poetry, tips on how to perform a slam, stage presence and how to get over stage fright,” informs Shantanu.

FINDING THE SPACE FOR SLAMS

One of the big challenges slamming groups face is finding cheap venues to host these slams. “We usually don’t charge anyone to join the group, but finding a nice place with a good audience is expensive,” says Manasi. She is hopeful that the situation will change in the near future. “Most of us are still in college and paying an entry fee every time we perform doesn’t really make sense,” says Srijan adding that small cafes, bookstores and local bars would be the ideal venues to host slams. Recently, the group held a poetry slam on the Pune University ground.

THE FUTURE OF POETRY SLAMS

“I’m nobody to judge if poetry slams are good or bad. It’s a newly emerging movement among youngsters and has growing influence on the new generation of writers these days,” says 63- year-old Randhir Khare, an award winning writer, artist and teacher. He’s all for giving the youth the freedom to experiment with poetry as an art. “I have been teaching youngsters across the city and I know from experience that they constantly need reassurance. Now-a- days performing at slams gives them a voice,” he says. However, having attended a poetry slam in the city, Randhir is of the opinion that art and competition shouldn’t go hand in hand. “Poetry in performance is an art and as a creative person myself, I believe it should be encouraged. Only time will tell if is here to stay,” he says.


I have performed a couple of times at poetry slams organised during the Kala Ghoda Arts festival organised in Mumbai. I love creativity and poetry slams provide you with the platform to showcase your unique talent for poetry,” says 42-year-old Ahmed Karim.

Poetry Slams are very interesting and entertaining. They have poetry that’s very contemporary. I personally feel that poetry slams don’t find a connect with the older crowd, they usually tend to attract the younger crowd with topics that mostly concern them,” says Hina Siddiqui of Orchestrated Q’Works.

 
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