Poetry Slam Contest used the cadences of the spoken word to evoke, provoke and question

Love, death, butterflies and doughnuts — just a few of the wildly differing themes touched upon by the young poets competing in Prakriti Foundation's Poetry Slam Contest.

After bringing slam poetry to India for the first time two years ago, Prakriti Foundation collaborates with the Alliance Française to once again bring the Poetry Slam Contest to the city as part of the ‘Poetry with Prakriti' festival.

Voice of concern

With over 150 students from 10 schools and 10 colleges participating, the competition gave students a platform on which to voice their concerns, thoughts and emotions — but within the frame of two minutes.

“What you're doing here is very old and very important,” says physician and poet Prabakar. “Published poetry is a modern phenomenon — poetry really originated in the oral tradition of being spoken and sung. Performance poetry is taking poetry back to where it belongs.” Emphasising how words are said as much as what they mean, slam poetry is heavily rooted in the oral, giving its poets the freedom to shout or weep their way through their verses — and the audience the freedom to shout back. “It's okay to respond,” smiles U.S. performance poet Carrie Rudzinsky. “We're not in a classroom. If you like something, shout out some praise!”

Judged by English language poets Carrie Rudzinsky and Dr. Prabakar and Tamil poets N.D. Rajkumar and Sukirtharani within Tamil and English categories, the competition encouraged budding poets to explore and exploit the impact of spoken language.

To open the show, Rudzinsky performs one of her own pieces — and her performance is a journey. Powerful and charged with emotion, her voice rises, falls and breaks at all the right moments. “I'm constantly the wrong age for my body” she breathes, hands outstretched and eyes glistening. I have no idea what the poem is about because it's all happening so quickly, but I can feel what Carrie is saying — and I think this is the point of performance poetry. Instead of leisurely reflecting upon words as they appear on a page, you're swept along with the riptide of emotions and images that are being whispered, shouted and sung before you.

The strength of delivery

The strength of this form of poetry appears to lie in the force of speech it commands — whether gentle, angry, resentful or upbeat, the majority of these poems are characterised by their forcefulness of delivery. From Nihilish Nair's quiet musings on solitude titled ‘I Sit Here' to Hemalatha Venkatraman's feminist rage, a whole spectrum of emotions and concerns of the youth has transpired on this stage.

Some of the poems were reproachful, using their two-minute frames to voice concerns on current issues and demanding their audience to respond: “Trash is what you throw away” begins Annja Sundar, slowly and thoughtfully, but concluding with sharp question, “What's your trash? Is it really okay to throw it away?”

Similarly, V. Sudha stresses the need for the implementation of better environmental policies, crying “let's ensure a policy for greenery to increase our country's scenery!” and Sidarth Srinivas' angry story of the life and death of a farmer, whose demise he blames on government neglect insisting they must not “bite the hand that feeds our entire nation”.

Quite literally voicing their views, concerns and feelings, the young Tamil and English poets shouted, laughed and sung their way through an evening of poetry in performance, using the lilt and cadences of the spoken word to evoke, provoke and question.

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MetroplusJune 28, 2012