Spoken word is an experimental addition to the growing culture of live entertainment in the city. A form of performance poetry, the term connotes a broad spectrum of performances — by solo artistes or an ensemble, with or without music.
Like any other art form, the availability of venues is vital for its sustenance. Delhi Poetry Slam, a motley group of spoken word artistes formed in 2013, has been organising spoken word performances in various restaurants and cafés in the city.
“Spoken word has always happened in cafés and bars in small artistic places,” says Saumya Choudhury, a performance poet and member of Delhi Poetry Slam. According to her, the form needs a “casual environment” and an “interactive audience”.
She recalls the first performance by Delhi Poetry Slam at Kunzum Travel Cafe, Hauz Khas Village, the enthusiastic response to which led them to organise a performance in Siri Fort auditorium. It taught them that “it’s really tough to do something like this in an auditorium...spoken word needs venues that are more casual, where people are not just watching something but contributing to it.” Also, performing in cafés and restaurants eliminates the costs of booking an auditorium.
A few cafes, all of them located in South Delhi, have been hosting spoken word performances. The Piano Man/ Passion, an art café in Vasant Vihar, has been hosting one spoken word session a month. They have been doing this in collaboration with another group of slam poets and spoken word artistes, known as Mildly Offensive Content. According to Arjun Sagar Gupta, partner, The Piano Man/ Passion, the performances have been free of cost. But if the performers need to be paid, they keep a cover charge.
Italia, a fine-dining restaurant in DLF Promenade, Vasant Kunj, recently hosted an event titled Unplugged (priced at Rs.1200), comprising performers of various nationalities. According to Praveen Vashisht, manager of the restaurant, hosting an event with an international profile makes business sense. “This is the first time we are trying something like this…but it’s revenue generating for sure,” he adds.
But even at cafés and restaurants, it is often difficult to create the ideal conditions for spoken word — a semi-circular arrangement such that at no point does the audience face the performer’s back. Moreover, Saumya says, a lot of venues “approach artistes to come in and perform so they can hike up their food and beverage sales. We usually go for venues which are artist friendly.”