mid-day gives a lowdown on slam poetry, a phenomenon that started in 1980s

Feb 10, 2018, 12:24 IST | Heli Shukla

A popular poet on Mumbai's slam poetry circuit is in the news for alleged sexual misconduct. But what is a poetry slam? mid-day gives you a lowdown on this cultural phenomenon that started in the 1980s

 Illustration/Uday Mohite
Illustration/Uday Mohite

What is a poetry slam?
Slams are competitive events where poets gather to either read or perform their work. They are judged on a scale of 1-10 for their performance or by an audience vote on their pieces, often over several rounds. The first poetry slam was held in 1984 at the Get Me High lounge in Chicago by American poet Marc Smith. Several slam poetry gatherings followed that one, with such contests gradually becoming national competitions in the US. Today, they are held in all kinds of venues all over the world, as standalone events or tournaments.

Know your slam etiquette
Arya Tiwari, Mumbai editor of online magazine ArtRefurbish that also organises poetry slams across the country

Do
>> Snap your fingers to show appreciation towards certain lines or phrases
>> Wait until the end of the performance to applaud
>> Congratulate performing poets and support them on social media

Don't
>> Forget to put your phone on silent mode
>> Leave mid-performance; respect the poet on stage
>> Hesitate to pay for a slam's ticket

Get your spoken word fix at these venues
>> The Habitat, Khar
>> Doolally Taproom, Khar
>> The Hive, Khar
>> Prithvi Café, Juhu (which routinely hosts open mic nights where poets, comedians and musicians can perform)

Check out these performances
>> 'A Brown Girl's Guide to Gender' by Aranya Johar
>> 'Revenge Porn' by Ishmeet Nagpal
>> 'Right to Pleasure' by Priya Malik
>> 'The Legal Rapist' by Simar Singh
>> 'Shree Ram Adaalat Mein' by Gaurav Tripathi
>> 'Go Back to Your Own Country' by Ankita Shah and Ramneek Singh

When did it get popular in India?
Back home, poetry slams have gained a lot of traction only over the past few years, even though India has a rich tradition of oral performances. They gained more mainstream popularity in 2016 and 2017, just as videos of poems performed at the events started to take social media by storm. Today, one can find spoken word poets discussing and addressing a spectrum of topics and issues through their work - from love and longing to patriarchy and caste politics. Giving a greater boost to this growing culture, slams and open mic nights are now a staple in the city's performance circuit, with several establishments regularly organising such events. Performance arts forum Kommune also organised a fest called 'Spoken' last year, which had a mix of acts by poets, thespians and comedians.

What is The future of spoken word in India?

Ramya Pandyan, poet
'Spoken word poetry is not a new art form. It has its roots in every oral performing tradition. But it has gotten a new lease of life. Currently, the popular flavour is for performances to sound angry and rage against something specific. With time, I think, these themes and tones will evolve, too. All in all, I think, we're set for some very exciting times in storytelling, performance and art!'

Harnidh Kaur, poet
'A lot of slam poets today chase virality, which is diluting why slam poetry came to being... Having said that, I feel there are incredible poets that are going viral. Slam poetry is at a certain crossroads right now… But this is a time when the community must rally and take a step back and ask itself, 'are we willing to pander away what is practically sacred to us for a few clicks or do we expect better of ourselves?'

1984
The year poetry slams made their debut

1990
Year the first National Poetry Slam took place in USA

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