A generation speaks, in rhyme

The love for poetry is spreading among the young, thanks to poetry slams, says Madhura Banerjee

  • Published 8.10.18, 9:56 PM
  • Updated 8.10.18, 9:56 PM
  • 2 mins read
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As the afternoon light receded from Park Street in Calcutta, it shone for a while on the face of Mirza Ghalib painted on an electrical junction box. That reminded me of the nazms and shayaris I heard earlier that day at Jadavpur University. I had been invited to judge the inter-collegiate open mic event titled Kora Kagaz and spent three hours listening to over 70 students from all over West Bengal perform. A peculiarly beautiful thing was how more than half of them wrote poetry in Hindi, Urdu and Bengali.

A couple of months ago, I had been judge at a similar event at Techno India College in Salt Lake, Calcutta. There, over 50 students had fearlessly shared their verses in their mother tongues. That was when I knew that Calcutta had made the poetry slam — popularised in the West by established poets such as Phil Kaye, Sarah Kay and Anis Mojgani — its own. Now, almost every school and college has a mandatory poetry slam event at the annual fest.

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Over the past five years, I have performed at, hosted and judged numerous poetry slams across Calcutta. I have seen our generation grow braver with each public performance. Young poets fearlessly talk about dark memories from childhood, family dynamics, social anxiety and mental health. In fact, much of the taboo around mental health has been broken because our generation has utilised this platform to speak out, about ourselves and our friends. Poets also use this forum to explore social and political topics.

At a poetry slam, if you agree with or connect to a certain part of a poem, you are supposed to snap your fingers, not applaud. Having conducted a mental survey at the various events I have been part of, I noticed that feminism and gender politics receive the loudest finger-snaps. We also hear young poets discuss corruption in the education system, reservations, the under-representation of minority communities — and a room full of people snap their fingers in agreement.

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I have often been invited to conduct poetry slam workshops. At the end of each such workshop, the floor is opened to the attendees to share their poetry. While there are certain topics and themes that bind us, everybody has his or her own unique story. That is the reason why the poetry slam will live on — because the world will never run out of stories to tell.

At a recent event I co-hosted at Alliance Francaise du Bengale, a young man narrated excerpts from a play his grandfather had written, which had been lost to the tides of time. At the same event, the father of one of the participants delighted us all with poetry he had written much earlier, but never read in public. At a college open mic I attended, one of the professors narrated poetry on bravely battling cancer and counting her blessings.

Earlier, people thought that poetry was a niche practice. Now, with more and more people participating in poetry slams, people are realising that this literary form comes with a palette of emotions, some of whose colours we are all bound to identify with.

  • The writer is a postgraduate Computer Science student at St. Xavier’s College, Calcutta

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