HYDERABAD: It’s raw, honest and invites empathetic contemplation — spoken word poetry. Recall your school lessons where you were probably asked to recite Martin Luther King’s ‘I Have a Dream’. If you think those written words (though officially termed as speech) were powerful, imagine yourself standing among the crowd in 1963 listening to the live words stir emotions.
So why bring this up today? For two reasons. One, it’s World Poetry Day and two, spoken word poetry has got a shiny, new personality in the last few years.
They call it slam poetry — pretty much the same as spoken word poetry but more expressive and sincere in its tone. While spoken poetry has been popular in the US, it’s only in recent times that Hyderabadis have been showing interest. City-based poets and enthusiasts, who were inspired by Sarah Kay, Denice Frohman and Phil Kaye (international spoken word poets) share their thoughts.
They agree that YouTube and other social networking websites are the reason this art form is popular in India and now, our city. Juveria Javid, a 22-year-old MBBS student from Osmania Medical, who participated in several slam poetry platform says, “I really appreciate Sarah Kaye. I listened to her TED talk: “If I should have daughter” and was mesmerised.”
The young poet defines it as a fusion between theatre and poetry. “It all depends how your perform on the stage,” she adds. Does slam poetry hold a special meaning for her? She explains, “It’s the voice of the masses and the subaltern, too.”
The internet plays a huge part in the making of art. There are many people who appreciate poetry and social media provides the ideal platform to reach them. In turn, slam contests and open mics provide the perfect platform for amateurs and aspirants. Says Drishti Nagda of InkscapeCo who organises slam poetry reading in the city, “A few years ago there was hardly anyone in the city.
The trend of slam poetry and spoken word poetry is catching up. There are so many brilliant poets in Hyderabad, but not many platforms.” That’s he is organizing a workshop on slam poetry under the umbrella ‘Hyderabad Poetry Project at CBIT College, Gandipet. The last year she along with other city-based poets were part of Soul Slam held at Novotel. “It was quite an experience,” she reminisces.
Spoken word poetry is at its peak in the city and the freedom it offers to express is golden. A few years ago, poet Denice Frohman’s Dear Straight People went viral and recently, poet Neil Hilborn’s OCD has been doing the rounds.
“Minorities definitely use this medium. Then again, sometimes there is an elite or glazed layer around spoken word poetry that only certain sections of society participate in. However, the poetry movement is trying to make accessible for everybody, which is integral for its growth,” says poet Vasanthi S Pillai.
Spoken word poetry is considered to largely be for the oppressed and the LGBTQ community. A member, Ajitha Victor says, “The themes range from unreciprocated love to racism, sexism and classism where they attack discrimination. I believe this is a platform for the oppressed to speak out. I cry, I laugh and I experience with the poet. It is very powerful that way.”
What makes it powerful? Is it just the words or the structural rhythm? Vasanthi explains, “First, I believe there are as many types of spoken word poetry as the number of people who perform. It’s beautiful because it does not have a rigid structure; there is style surely, but it evolves and changes with every individual.” Many opine that ‘When Love Arrives’ by Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye is classic magic!
There are not many popular Indian slam poets, true.
Nevertheless, the steady growth of love for words, frequent open mics, slam contests and the internet, of course, can change numbers. But even poets who practise more the written form of poetry are willing to take up the spoken word poetry.
Akila G, a city poet and associated as an editor with a publishing house participated in Slam Poetry organised by the US Consulate General Hyderabad at Gallery Cafe, Banjara Hills. She opines, “The theme of intolerance seemed interesting. I feel that even a written poem can be recited or performed and I am comfortable with it.”
The poet working on her first poetry manuscript adds, “I can emote as much as any other slam poetry performer.” Paresh Tiwari, an Indian Navy Commander, and also a poet explored it for the first time. “I write Japanese forms of poetry like haiku, haibun and tanka. My second book is upcoming by the year-end on haibun and prose poetry.
I wanted to understand how poetry is communicated and accepted by people other than poetry circles. And much to my delight, choosing to perform spoken word poetry opened many layers of communication.”