Poetry Slams: A Reason To Rhyme

Delhi Poetry Slam

On February 18, 1989, Salman Rushdie said in reply to a fatwa proclaimed in Iran due to the controversial nature of his book ‘Satanic Verses’, “A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep”. Couldn’t have said it better myself. Poetry has been used as a way of showing rebellion since its inception, it’s more than just words put together to rhyme. This tradition has only been continued and built upon through ‘Poetry Slams’, an event where both experienced poets, novices and listeners all come together to keep the magic of poetry alive.

Technically, a poetry slam is a competition in which poets recite their original works and are judged by members of the audience. American poet Marc Smith is credited with starting the poetry slam at the Get Me High Lounge in Chicago in November 1987, and since then it has only evolved and grown bigger with increasing participation and reach. Slam poetry has always been popular among youth as a means of expression so how could India – a country which boasts of having the largest youth population in the world – be far behind? Slowly but surely, slam poetry has taken its roots in our hearts and our pages too.

 Kaafiya
IMAGE COURTESY – KAAFIYA

In a vibrant city like Delhi, inhabited by people from all walks of life, it was only a matter of time before poetry slams became a norm rather than just a feature. If you were to actually attend a poetry slam, the one thing that would strike you at once would be it’s diverse audience. Poetry, you’ll realize, transcends age, religion, social and economic backgrounds and best of all, it unites people who have a passion, even if it’s just for living!

While it’s near impossible to pinpoint the exact time of its inception, groups like Bring Back The Poets, Mildly Offensive Content, Delhi Poetry Slam, Poets And Pints, Kaafiya – The Poetry Festival, etc. are largely proclaimed as pioneers of poetry slams in Delhi. To celebrate and kick off Poetry Month, The Yellow Sparrow reached out to a few of these pioneers to gain an insight into the world of Slam Poetry!

 1. Mildly Offensive Content

Back in 2013, Mildly Offensive Content was founded at the American Embassy School in New Delhi, and since then they’ve put on over thirty performances at places like Kunzum Travel Café in Hauj Khas Village, Potbelly in Shahpur Jat, NSIT College, Sardar Patel Vidyalaya, The Piano Man Cafe in Basant Lok and the Downstairs Space in Panchsheel. One thing to know about MOC is that they mostly host closed events wherein only the core members of the team perform and delight the crowd. When inquired if they choose a particular topic or theme for the performances they said:

There is no criterion to choosing a topic. Our topics range from people, relationships, politics, gender, love, subaltern thought to any and everything across a broad spectrum of life.

 

Mildly Offensive Content

Mildly Offensive Content

IMAGE COURTESY – MILDLY OFFENSIVE CONTENT

 2. Delhi Poetry Slam

Delhi Poetry Slam, also founded in 2013, is another such group which organizes slam poetry events and workshops all over India. They’re credited for founding an international slam platform in the city featuring a variety of artists including Nicole Sumner, Gilles Chuyen and Scott Moses Murray. They also have a YouTube channel which now has over 1.7 million views, with poems that highlight the hypocrisy in our society like ‘I Am Not Chinki, Chinese, or Nepali‘, ‘Tujhe Career Banana Hai‘ and ‘Why Indian Men Rape‘ among others.

 

Delhi Poetry Slam

Delhi Poetry SlamIMAGE COURTESY – DELHI POETRY SLAM

3. Poets And Pints

As the name suggests, Poets And Pints is a community of poets and poetry lovers that convenes on every full moon on a host’s terrace and holds a BYOB (Bring Your Own Bottle) poetry reading session. The group is inspired by a Northern Irish event where students of Queens University meet together at a local bookstore every month and had BYOB poetry sessions. Believing that poetry is something that a person can connect to innately, founders Arkupal Ra Acharya, Shayer Majumdaar, Pragya Lal, Anuj Gupta and Shreya Gupta got together to host these terrace get-togethers which are essentially ‘no judgement’ events where anyone can express themselves completely without fear. The location of the event is announced prior to the event so if you’re interested, head on over to their Facebook page to stay updated.

Poets And PintsIMAGE COURTESY – POETS AND PINTS

4. Bring Back The Poets

Launched on February 1, 2014, Bring Back The Poets may be less than two years old but the group has made its presence known in the poetry circuit of the city. BBTP organizes open mic events and poetry slams all over the capital, contributing to an art that has grown from strength to strength riding on the passion that exists in the youth and old alike. BBTP classifies itself as a queer collective, and a lot of their poets speak on often-considered-sensitive topics like gender, sexuality, identity and also mental health issues. Aditi Angiras, the founder of BBTP, thinks the reason why spoken word works well youth is because, “it lets them talk about the personal as well as the political. It lets them tell their story – because we’re all listening.”

She has high hopes for the future of poetry slams, saying,

It’s becoming the next big thing. It’s becoming the show college students head to every weekend. But I sincerely hope that the future also brings us good poets (and good performers), good storytellers and good artists. It’s easy to get up there and speak but it’s important to get on that mic and SAY something.

Bring Back The Poets

Bring Back The PoetsIMAGE COURTESY – BRING BACK THE POETS

5. Kaafiya – The Poetry Festival

Kaafiya, a poet’s association established itself officially on September 24, 2015 in Delhi College of Arts and Commerce, University Of Delhi and on October 10 and 11 held the first ever ‘Kaafiya – The Poetry Festival’ in the Amphitheatre at the Indian Habitat Centre, New Delhi. With eminent guests like Shri Ashok Chakradhar, Peggy Mohan, Aditi Maheshwari to name a few, it was a roaring success with poetry being celebrated like never before. Kaafiya’s Facebook bio states that, “Imagine the whole city rhyming together for poetry and harmony. That’s what Kaafiya aspires to do,” proclaiming to all who read it that they’re aiming to make Delhi the poetry capital of the country, which doesn’t come as a surprise if we look at the rich history our city has.

Yaseen Anwer, a poetry circuit veteran, who started Poets Corner in 2011, co-founded the Delhi Poetry Festival in 2012 and in 2015 founded Kaafiya, thinks it’s not just the audience in Delhi that is different from the West, it’s also the content. He says,

The content decides the audience. Most of the poets talk about social and cultural issues that surrounds them, while there are others who talk about things that are universal issues.

Kaafiya

Kaafiya
IMAGE COURTESY – KAAFIYA

Whether your interest was pricked by the ‘Open Letter To Honey Singh’ video that went viral some time ago or you’ve always had a soft spot for poetry (like me!), be joyful that poetry events are here to stay and grow! As Yaseen says, the future is definitely bright for the art of poetry with the advent and flourishing of poetry groups and events that are actively attracting a young audience.

Poetry Slams

IMAGE COURTESY – THE HINDU

In the end, let me leave you to pore over some words from a poem called ‘Bulletproof’ by Aina Singh in which she talks about religion, government, pop culture, social constructs and how we’re all bound by these things and how we all live in a delusion that we’re all somehow free.

Freedom of speech has limits, you say. Nothing and nobody in this world can be absolutely free. So exercise the rights you have responsibly, you say.

 Featured IMAGE COURTESY – DELHI POETRY SLAM

 

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