City cafés, rooftops turn into slam poetry hubs

Cafés, terraces and rooftops across the city are turning into open mic zones for slam poetry, where closet poets share their verses, with other enthusiasts of the spoken word.
City cafés, rooftops turn into slam poetry hubs
Participants attend an open mic session of slam poetry organised by Mocking Birds

Chennai

Slam poetry, a celebration of the spoken word, has taken the city by storm. Michelle Ann James, a music data analyst and one of the founders of Mocking Birds, a forum to promote the spoken word, said that their monthly meetings have seen a steady increase in participation. “Earlier, it was just a few of us but the last meeting on March 5 saw close to 25 people, from all walks of life. We meet at cafés or people’s terraces and share our poetry. In Chennai, there was hardly any place for the spoken form of poetry, where there will be no competition or judgement. It is pretty much like an open mic session, where we have a theme and people can read their work. We also have a brief musical interlude. For many, who are not necessarily performers, reading out their poems can be a very emotional experience, as they share their personal stories through their verse,” she said, adding that the theme of their last session was ‘Celebrating Half the Sky’, an ode to women.
Ishvar Krishnan, a video editor and engineering student, said this open mic format encourages many closet poets to share their work. “The poems can be in English or Tamil. While we were in school, poetry was all about the written verses. But now, with Instagram and spoken poetry, it has regained its popularity. When you read out the verse which you had written, you bring life to it,” he said. 
For Aswin Vijayan, a master’s student in literature from IIT Madras, it was an opportunity to meet like-minded people. “As a student of poetry, I find these sessions interesting. I get to network with others. I also read my poem ‘Seasonal Growth’, which deals with the multiplicity of gender and identity,” he said. 
Stray Factory’s Mathivanan Rajendran said slam poetry and spoken word are an important part of literary culture, which should try to engage a larger, mainstream audience. “We’re currently in a climate where there are lots of opinions and protest theatre in general is quite ugly because it doesn’t really evoke empathy. The open mic session reminded me how important community events are in this digital era,” he said, adding that their spoken word project titled ‘Make Word Not War’ will highlight the subtlety in words which could hopefully inform opinion.

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