Writer, performer, mentor, facilitator - there are many designations one can ascribe to Miles Merrill. Credited with introducing poetry slam to Australia, Miles is known for combining poetry with theatre, experimental audio, hiphop beats, standup and occasionally, political confrontation.
As part of his India tour, where he will be participating in the Bookaroo children's literature festival and school outreach programmes, Miles made a pitstop in Bengaluru recently, where he had a brief chat with Rajitha Menon.
How did you enter this field?
I used to write poems in my notebook when I was young. One night, I decided to get up and perform them at an open mic. After the performance, someone asked me if I could perform the same poetry at their pub for $50. This was in 1996. And I started performing in pubs, then got together with a band, put out an album and toured around the world. Now, I have set up a not-for-profit organisation that runs poetry slams in Australia, China, Indonesia and New Zealand.
How would you describe this art?
It's immediate and accessible. You can share it with friends or large audiences. So I could tell you a poem right now and you would have experienced the art form.
Oh, could you tell me one then?
Sure. If tonight had a nose, of course it would be running from the bridge on down. Tonight's sick cabs would cha-cha-cha holes in your dance floor. It's hair is black fire, under control but still dangerous.
Did you just make it up?
No, I wrote it earlier, memorised it and rehearsed it. There are people who do freestyle though.
Why do you think it resonates with youngsters so much?
That's because of the immediacy and the accessibility, so they can do it themselves. They don't need to wait for permission, they don't need to be cast in the perfect role.
What makes for a good work in a poetry slam?
There are a number of things. One is literary quality. The performers don't just talk about their emotions, they take the audience through those situations so they can get to feel what the poet felt. We also want vulnerability; we want to know that the person on stage is just like us. Someone who is expressing something that maybe most of us will be afraid to express.
Favourite topics to include in your performances?
I like observing the world around me. Today I was in a car and I saw a beautiful woman in a dress on a motorbike. I could only see her reflection in the rear view mirror of the bike. I felt like seeing her face and when I did, I saw that she had her finger very deeply in her nose. To me, that simple observation is worth a poem.
Thoughts about India...
It is my first time here and I am still trying to process it (laughs). There are so many different sights here. The Australian Embassy has been treating me very well.
What did you do here?
I walked from The Lalit Ashok Bangalore, where I am staying, to Chickpet. I roamed through the markets and had food from the vendors on the street. It was amazing and I was surprised at how cheap the food was there.
What should be done to promote poetry slams?
Young people can record videos of their performances and put it on their social media platforms and spread the word about the art.