Once a sceptic, on being asked why she disliked slams, said, “It’s not even poetry. There are two topics it revolves around, which are feminism and politics.” And so it does. But that does not stop the trend of having at least one poetry slam event being organised in each department fest of Delhi University. The spoken word is clearly not going anywhere.Even the Delhi Poetry Slam’s ‘Slam India Retreat 2016’, in Jaipur, saw the participation of self-confessed “poets” in huge numbers.Some of them have picked up the craft solely from watching Youtube videos of Button Poetry.In fact, there are many who do see slam poetry as legitimate poetry.
The spoken word, as a form of poetry, finds its roots in the musical, free verse of the likes of Allen Ginsberg. It sprang up via open mic sessions for the first time in the 1980s in U.S., primarily in small cafes. The trend seems intent on emulation in India, where such poets are increasingly choosing cafes for their debuts as well. There are now organizations like the Delhi Poetry Slam to consolidate and unite slam poets in different regions. The idea is that poetry is performance. Like any other craft, the craft of performance can also be learnt very quickly. It’s not very different from the concept of reality shows in this sense: quickly learning the tricks of the trade to compete and achieve overnight stardom. That it allows poetry to become a source of livelihood,however, might just be the only positive side to it.
Traditional modes of expression are an impasse. The paper does nothing for us now, since we have a Kindle. It’s hard to concentrate on a book for too long without dozing off. Similarly, monologues in the theatres lost charm since competitive slams took precedence, hanging somewhere between rap and poetry. The classification is difficult and something not worth attempting either. It should be let free, as far as the idea goes. But when overnight stardom without any desire of mastery, looking down upon writing, or performing poetry for a quick buck become the inspiration behind it, this generation should sit up and take notice. It should treat this as a warning, an impending disaster stemming from an attitude of materialism and competition.
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