slam poetry


The culture of slam poetry has become so common that even schools have slam competitions and poetry sessions. This new-age, so-called hip-hop culture took decades to get so deep-rooted in our sub-continent as well as from where it started.

The concept of not using bookish and formal rules of poetry, but rather using everyday language to create rhymes was introduced by Marc Kelly Smith in 1984. Marc Smith was a construction worker and his efforts changed this new art form into weekly competitions like Uptown Slam Poetry on July 25, 1986 at Green Mill, a Chicago jazz club. Seattle Poetry Slam was founded in the fall of 1992. The Seattle Slam team members starred participating in Nationals from 1996 and these competitions were held every year in a different state of North America. The culture, subsequently, branched out to Europe and Australia.

The art form has no specific rules to be followed and can be molded according to the poet’s style. It is a thriving art form which gives youngsters the space and reach to express themselves. It started out as a sphere that helps the poet(s) talk of political, racial, and economic disparity. The platform gives the poets the freedom to express their takes or opinions on the political scenario around them. Today, it has fanned out to their personal experiences, funny anecdotes, and even history with violence and abuse. Because of its outreach, slam poetry has helped poets become vocal about their traumatic experiences, help other survivors, and get healed themselves. Lane Shuler believes that “an audience can entirely change the way a poem is delivered just by the energy they give off.” Poets have even left their audiences in peals of laughter by talking about their short height and dog’s pop problems.

Diksha Bijlani, a Slam Poet from Gargi College who won the National Youth Poetry Slam in 2016 and represented India in CUPSI,Chicago, shared her views regarding the culture of spoken word in India. She said, “In my opinion, a significant way through which spoken word has empowered communities around our country is by giving them a platform to reclaim things that they have been made to feel ashamed about for long. Be it body hair, dark skin, be it short dresses, be it mental illness, their sexuality, the gender spectrum, or religion and caste-based identities.”

Indians are not far behind; slam poetry has gained momentum just like stand-up comedy in India. Various outlets have sprung up to help poets express themselves and even be published. Art Refurbish is a Mumbai-based online magazine that publishes poets’ work as well as hosts competitions regularly. A Delhi-based counterpart of this is the Delhi Poetry Slam. This platform has even helped poets publish their works in books and other magazines.

Ms. Bijlani also added, “The only problem I see arising is one of advocacy not channeling into activism. It isn’t difficult to go behind a mic and advocate for the women’s movement as a woman or a male ally. But the difficult thing is to convert this advocacy into activism on ground, to hold ourselves accountable for every time we propagate rape culture, or to call out our peers for every sexist remark. The real work happens when we come out of slams, and while poetry slams are a great place to rage together, to support each other in our fight, and build solidarity, the advocacy that happens inside of slams also needs to be channelised into tangible, constructive activism outside of it. I hope the new generation of poets takes up slam poetry for this reason, and not just to follow a mainstream trend.”

Our university has been ever-welcoming of this culture. We often witness slam poetry sessions or competitions taking place in every college’s departmental and cultural fest. These sessions often happen in places outside our college premises too and help us to connect with like-minded people.

Feature Image Credits: The Writer Magazine

Prachi Mehra

[email protected]

This spoken word poet from Gargi College went on to win the National Youth Poetry Slam in India in 2016 and also represented India in Chicago’s International Poetry Slam competition. Here are excerpts from our rendezvous with Diksha Bijlani:

Q. How did your National Youth Poetry Slam victory and subsequent presentation at Chicago’s International Slam CUPSI feel like? Has the power of your reach and the charisma of your personality dawned on you yet?

Diksha: My Gargi college team and I went to National Youth Poetry Slam (NYPS) content with being part of a space that, for the first time, was going to celebrate spoken word poetry. It felt like a gift, to be able to share stage with the top college teams from around the country, with a spoken word collective from Pakistan, with featured poets from India and beyond. So when the moment of winning came, it felt unreal. We had this huge-ass trophy to fly from Bangalore to Delhi, and every moment of explaining the airport staff or fellow passengers how exactly three tiny girls ended up with a huge golden trophy on this IndiGo flight, was blissful with the memory of it.

But if NYPS was a gift, CUPSI Chicago was a reward. Each moment of being appreciated there as the Indian team, each moment of sharing space with an entire diaspora of poets and listening to their stories, every moment of hearing “Oh, are you that Indian poet from Button Poetry?!”, felt rewarding. Weeks of practices that led to NYPS that led to Chicago led to us being in that moment, and I had nothing in my heart but gratitude. Our feature at the finals in Chicago even received a standing ovation! We were part of a brown poets meet over there, and we witnessed Haiku slams and Nerd slams. At the CUPSI finals, we also witnessed the entire community standing up against a white entitled something called Marc Smith who has been called the founder of slam poetry. His poem was deeply problematic, and all the finalist teams decided to withdraw from the competition that year as a revolt against the organisers for inviting him to perform. We made poet friends from around the globe, who are currently the most positive people in our life.

The power of this reach instills gratitude in me because it invokes the realisation that there are now more people I can help, or support with words. Each time someone at a slam tells me they find solace in my art, or that they started performing poetry because of me, it is a humbling realisation of my potential to empower- and that is what keeps me going on days I don’t feel the most poetic.

Q. How has your journey of founding Slip of Tongue been like till now, along with performing with your collective at various places? 

Diksha: We started Slip of Tongue with a vision to connect more people with this art form, and also to experiment with spoken word and music through collaborations. The journey has been very enterprising, we have done workshops and shows across Universities, and also continued to organise our own official events called ‘Slips’. Fourth Slip was held just recently, and it surpassed our expectations with more than 120 people showing up just to listen to poems, music, and us.

Q. You have often spoken about your high-functioning depression, when did you first realize it and how have you dealt with it? 

Diksha: I realised I had it last year, primarily when I noticed that my achievements and professional success did not make me happy. I was a productive, well-performing, and to some extent even overachieving individual, but most of it felt like a coping mechanism to ward off the emotional turbulence inside. And when the day was over and the show was done, I returned to bed at night with this persistent void inside of me. One of my ways of dealing with it was to write and perform my poem ‘High Functioning Depression’. Another way I have tried to deal with it is to practice gratitude constantly and towards the smallest of positive things I witness every day.

Q. How do you think the culture and scenario of spoken word differ in India and Chicago? Do you see slam poetry becoming a profession in India anytime soon?

Diksha: I think a major point of difference is representation. The spoken word community in the US has much more representation across communities and especially oppressed communities, but in India, this proportion of representation is something we are yet to attain. Although we have made great progress on some ends, and there are a lot of women at slams telling their stories. But this representation still needs to percolate more to queer poets, Dalits, Muslims, queer Dalits, people with disabilities, non-English spoken poets, and all other underrepresented communities.

It already is a profession, and there are many campaigns that are now employing spoken word poets for their execution. It is yet to be seen as a profession yet, which I think will happen over time with more and more organisers paying the artists they call to perform, and better-prized competitions coming around.

Q. If spoken word ever becomes a profession, would you take it up full-time?

Diksha: I have chosen the path of public service for myself, and while poetry is very poetically a kind of public service too, in the next few years the public policy is going to be my primary profession of interest. I will never stop doing spoken word though, and even for the next few years, it is going to be a second profession for me. In the late future, I might take up teaching spoken word full-time for a while, or organising international spoken word events in India.

Q. What do you think of the recent developments in Shamir Reuben’s case?

Diksha: The revelations about him have made us realise that sexual predators in safe spaces are the hardest to spot. This has made us take conscious efforts now to spot this behavior, call it out, and reinstate poetry slams are safe spaces. For the same reason, the Slip of Tongue event that happened right after was a fundraiser with an NGO called Sayfty that trains women against sexual abuse. The community as a whole has become cognizant of this, and we are trying to do better every single day since.


Feature Image Credits: Paul Finney for NYPS

Prachi Mehra
[email protected]

On 12th April, 2017 Cluster Innovation Centre (CIC), organized Meraki, its counseling fest. This year’s theme focused on Child sexual abuse and Body image.

A participant performs at slam poetry competition.  Credits- Ened D'souza
A participant performs at slam poetry competition.
Credits- Ened D’souza

One of the reasons why these sensitive and pertinent topics were chosen as themes is that there are two projects being run at CIC based on Body image and Child sexual abuse, and this fest was an extension of the same.

The fest started with the screening of “Breaking the myth”, a short film is directed, written, and acted by the counseling students of CIC. The short film chronicled the journey of recovery of a boy who was sexually harassed by a trusted elder. The short film debunked many myths regarding child sexual abuse.The screening was followed by a panel discussion.

Slam poetry competition saw the most participation. Miss Sabika Naqvi, a Delhi University student and a popular feminist poet, and Miss Arushi Aggarwal served in the capacity of the judges. Miss Sabika Naqvi’s rendition of “Mera Kajal” was the highlight of the day.  Amongst twelve participants, Anusuya Bohra of Hansraj College was declared winner for her poem “Of flesh and bone”.

The Doodle competition themed on Body image was an opportunity for all those back-page doodlers to draw their hearts out! Manali Raj, a student of Cluster Innovation Centre won the first prize.

Photography competition was also themed on child sexual abuse and body image. Salil Sharma won the completion for his two photographs “Eyes speak louder” and “The perfect desire”.

With enthusiastic participation of students across Delhi University, the fest was a success.


Niharika Dabral

[email protected]


Feature Image credits: Ened D’Souza



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 credits:ndsmcobserver.com

Image caption: Keep calm and Poetry Slam


Deepannita Misra

[email protected]

Delhi Poetry Slam provides a platform for budding poets from every corner of India to showcase their original work, reciting their poems and helps them get guidance from renowned people from India and abroad.

Poetry does what little else can – inspire. Poetry is the salve and soul of the civilized world. Slam Poetry is where poets evince their emotions of all kinds in front of willing audiences who want to immerse themselves into the flowing streams of words. Amidst mist, chilly winds and the frozen breaths, poetry is what can be celebrated with the people of Delhi Poetry Slam. From 4th February 2017, DelSlam begins another journey with the talented poets of Delhi and 28 other states plus 7 Union Territories. Since the past few years, the participation in DelSlam has been quite significant with the emerging poets competing for the prize money and their poems getting published in a poetry book.

This year DelSlam, all set with its new programs has introduced Wingword Poetry Prize which is for the poetic talents which are yet to be discovered. Poetry enthusiasts from every nook and corner of the country can produce their piece, maybe a humorous tale, or a love story, a ballad or even a soliloquy. Every kind of poetic piece is most welcome in this program. A huge sum of prize money has been announced as well that will help attracting participation. This competition is open to all Indians of the age group of 15-24 years. The course has been designed for beginners, who have an ardent desire to express themselves but haven’t had a chance earlier. Thus, in the Korean Cultural Centre, Lajpat Nagar, this February DelSlam puts forth a huge opportunity to the ones seeking out to learn slam poetry and convey emotions and perspectives about the world with the help of a powerful and supportive committee. Befriending like-minded people and sharing ideas, DelSlam is giving a chance to share everything you have ever wanted to.

Also, DelSlam has got international performer Alok-Vaid Menon from New York who will be there as the mentor to the participant poets during the program that will take place from 4th Feb-22nd Feb’17. The poets at DelSlam perform on various genres and on topics like taboos related to sex in our society, misogyny in the rap industry and many more.

Here’s a link to watch these young poets delivering artistically their original works that have been updated into a YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCuv7kk9fhHwKtIjK2Nta6qQ

Image credits: http://theyellowsparrow.com/

By Radhika Boruah

[email protected]