Speaking out loud

Performance poetry

Speaking out loud

A shiver runs through the spine and the hair on your arms stand on ends when poet Sarah Kay calmly recites, ‘You are a woman. Skin and bones, veins and nerves, hair and sweat. You are not made of metaphors. Not apologies, not excuses.’

These words, powerful as they are when written and read, turn nothing short of dangerous when spoken out aloud. And that’s what makes performance poetry stand out — it dares to say things otherwise ignored; it makes you sit up and listen when you are otherwise deaf.

Mobika Maring, a student at St Joseph’s College, says that spoken word gives you a chance to “get things out there”. “When you write poetry it tends to stay in your journal. But when it is performed, it turns into a cathartic experience because you are putting your most vulnerable self on stage for an audience.”

Though performance poetry is yet to gain popularity in India, the City, over the past few years, has witnessed some outstanding performers reveal it all. An art that combines words, rhyme and rhythm with facial expressions, hand gestures and voice modulation, it is known for its improvisational qualities and emotional outpours. Each piece is a journal entry that takes you into a person’s life, exposing you to their innermost feelings and thoughts.
 Mobika adds, “At first, I wasn’t very comfortable about putting myself out there but my work was well-received.”

Nandini Varma, a co-founder of ‘Airplane Poetry Movement’, explains the idea of the performance art, “People associate poetry with the word ‘boring’ because of the way it is taught in school. But there’s more to it. It is a very interesting and vulnerable form of expressing your feelings.”

It digs deep into social, economic, gender, environmental, race and caste issues (if a person feels it, it can be performed). Vinay Kumar, a student and performer (although not as frequently as he’d like), says that spoken word can induce goosebumps if done well. “It’s the easiest way to get things across,” he adds.

It was Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye’s performance videos that introduced many to the art. Mobika, Nandini and Vinay express their love for the duo. And once hooked, they scouted YouTube for other performers. “I didn’t know what spoken word was until I started applying for college. I was looking for creative writing courses in the UK and spoken word was in the curriculum of one of the colleges I applied to,” says Mobika. It didn’t take her long to find videos after that.

About her content, she says, “Initially, I wrote about things that bothered me — things that got me angry or upset. But I didn’t want to be known as the girl who writes angry poems so I try different things now.”

From Shillong, Mobika raises issues of discrimination in some of her poems. ‘I am rooted...This country has warmth...Don’t amputate your NE arm...’ goes one performance. Heart breaks, deaths, treasured moments and more find themselves being shared with a crowd.

With Nandini and Shantanu Anand’s ‘Airplane Poetry Movement’ and other groups popularising the spoken word, it isn’t hard to find a performance in the City any longer. “I make it a point to go for at least one performance every months,” says Mobika.

And there are even competitions. “The art is called spoken word or performance poetry but when it’s a competition it’s called a ‘Slam’,” says Nandini.

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