CHENNAI: Poetry has been used as a medium to communicate for centuries. Written, recited and published in various forms, this form of literature has come a long way today. From sonnets to free verses, and ballads to modern, poetry has evolved over the years. Chennai too has its set of poetry-high people. With clubs and groups conducting poetry reading sessions and slam poetry contests, many are trying to retain this beautiful form of literature.
“We have been conducting poetry festivals and sessions for over a decade. Poetry has definitely evolved in the city over the years, but at a slow pace,” explains Meera Krishnan, senior programme coordinator, Prakriti Foundation. These poetry groups and sessions provide a platform for young poets and poetry enthusiasts to participate and connect. Like every other medium, poetry too has undergone its own set of changes. What used to be traditional poems have evolved into spoken word and slam poetry contests as well as open mics.
Raghavendra Madhu, who founded Poetry Couture, says “We live in the age of Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest and other kinds of online micro-poetry alongside contemporary poetry, and the raging fad of slams. A few weeks ago, poetry readings were mostly organised in academic circles, in undetectable closed-door gathering and unheard silos. The need for spaces to gather, recite poetry or express the written word was increasingly felt. This is how Poetry Couture came into existence.”
With traditional poetry being read only in schools and colleges, poetry took a turn and evolved into what is called as Spoken Word. Spoken Word included verbal oration of word play with focus on intonation and voice inflection. “When I came to the city nine years ago, there wasn't really much exposure given to poetry. There was a Madras Poetry Club, which focused on traditional poetry. But everyone was above 50 years there,” recalls Michelle Ann James, co-founder Mocking Bird.
Mocking Bird, which started conducting small spoken word sessions to exchange ideas and thoughts, provided a platform for people to openly discuss anything in the form of open mic poetry. “Initially, a lot of people who used to come to watch these sessions, would feel very shy to come out and speak. But over a couple of more such sessions, they too would walk up to the stage to share what they have,” she adds.
From the time when traditional poetry was used as a medium to convey to the masses various social issues and topics like feminism, gender equality to a time where anything can be discussed, poetry has definitely come a long way. For instance, a video by Aranya Johar, where she recites ‘A brown girl’s guide to beauty’, discusses discriminatory beauty standards, and became a sensation on social media.
So does it really create an impact among the listeners? Recalling a dalit poetry session they conducted in the city a couple of years back, Meera says “The kind of poetry that was read out, the kind of personal experiences that were shared, it was really so powerful and indeed was a touching moment for most listeners there, including me.”
It affected people in different ways. Some just read it and let it be, but while others pondered on what they had read and heard, and changed their perspective about a lot of things. It wouldn't be wrong to say that it made them more open-minded. “The power of a single poem rewrites history. Poetry is with every line, dismantling the stigmas surrounding mental health and illness, sex, gender, sexuality, LGBTQ+ movement, racism, fascism, other Manichean applications of ethics and moral policing on dressing, ‘appropriateness’ and many other constraints that people are only growing conscious of only now,” explains Srivatsan Manivannan, a student of liberal arts and poetry enthusiast.
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