Arts & Culture

The uncomfortable truth about DU’s Slam Poetry scene

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As a community of believers of free speech, the burgeoning slam poetry scene in India is surprisingly averse to constructive criticism, giving way to its own stagnation.


There is something inherently ironic when a community, usually invested in voicing the most uncomfortably true opinions about the society, itself shies away from criticism. It signifies an unwillingness to grow. Currently, this is what threatens to make the desi version of slam seem gimmicky. Non-acceptance, the elephant in the room which nobody is willing to confront, may as well turn the tables for a presently blossoming slam poetry scene across Delhi’s cafes and colleges. Let’s face it, India still has miles to go to produce performance poetry matching the levels of, say, the “Button Poetry” series. There is too much focus on performance, and often the content suffers.

“I usually attend slams because it’s good money. I just have to write to engage the crowd and evoke a few responses, but I’m not really happy with what I write,” claims a second year student, a regular at competitive poetry slam events across the DU circuit. There are, believe it or not, students who think desi slam is just a passing trend. Some find the “training grounds” for young slam poets (workshops, slam retreats etc.) too pricey. They provide close to no useful training for that amount of money.

This is the rotten core underneath the shiny veneer of a sense of empowerment, which many budding poets experience by reciting at these events. This is a facet which many relate to, but are scared to confess. When the herd follows one route, can an individual sheep turn the other way? But it must, if India is to witness world-class slam poetry events, producing top-notch poets.

On one hand, the genre of slam poetry is in itself, without a doubt, an excellent means of communicating hard-hitting messages. A live audience can listen and respond to politics, sexuality, anxiety, love, heartbreak and much more, almost immediately. It provides the poet instant gratification, if he or she was successful at moving the audience. And if not, the audience can very well discard them. The results are immediate.

However, on the other hand, the current and popular version of slam in colleges edges dangerously close to melodrama. It should not(contrary to misconceptions) just be about evoking uncontrollable tears as if it were a cheesy saas-bahu soap, or evoking peals of laughter as if it were stand-up comedy.Granted that slam requires a certain kind of writing — poetry meant to be read aloud, not read in solitude. Even so, there should be a standard, key concept and structure to it. Poetry cannot be a mindless formula of rousing extreme emotions.

In a country where education is one of the most profitable businesses, young poets have to ensure that the slam scene doesn’t head down that dirty road. It is time to swallow the bitter pill of constructive criticism. Nobody is a “born” poet and actor. We all have to begin by learning the tricks of the trade.



Image caption: Keep calm and Poetry Slam


Deepannita Misra

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