Spoken Word Poetry: Setting The Word Free
April 3, 2018
Spoken word poetry is poetry that refuses to sit on a page- it needs an audience to exist and become a performance poem. It incorporates the use of vivid imagery, does not lean against a set structure and can be accompanied by costumes, music, and props. It is, quite simply, poetry come alive.
In 2014, I found myself back in Mumbai, the city of my birth, but a place I had romanticised from a distance for 18 years. There were only two regular open mics in the city (that I knew of) and they happened once a month. I was used to attending gigs at least five times a week and was craving some serious poetry action! Slowly, I started running poetry workshops and became a part of the small poetry circle in the city.
On January 29, 2015, in the back of a bustling restaurant in Khar, I addressed a crowd of about 60 people at my very own poetry open mic. There was no stage and the room was so packed that some of the audience had to sit cross-legged on the floor. It was an electrifying night of poetry and, for me, it created a spark that set a new movement in motion. I made myself a promise to create a safe space for poetry and for poets in the city. I wanted to bring poetry out of the internet and YouTube channels and make it such that you could meet the artists in person.
I remember my friend Anu Elizabeth Roche performing her signature poem, ‘Shame’ for the first time. It broke many barriers, for her personally, and also for the audience who never saw it coming! Shame is a poem about a young girl learning to feel ashamed of her body.
I hope your shoulders don’t slump
from the weight of knowing
That there will be people
who know your body
Better than you ever will
Only because you spent so long
rendering it invisible
I remember Preeti Vangani, another powerful poet, bravely speaking about the hypocrisy of patriarchy, openly talking about her arthritis and the way that friends and lovers and even family made her feel about it. Her poem titled ‘Joint Words’ is a must-watch for all those in India who call themselves spoken word poets.
However, being a spoken word artist and performing for audiences can be hard sometimes. It took a long time for me to truly find my own voice as a spoken word artist. I have written my way out of dark canyons and found solace in just speaking my truth. I realised that I like to write about what I know and how I feel from a very personal perspective. My poetry has one purpose- to set me free from the spinning vortex that is my brain. To quell the waves of anxiety that wash over me when I’m faced with an impossible situation. To help me make sense of human interactions, love, forgiveness etc.
In moments of self-doubt, when no poem is good enough, I remind myself of why I started writing in the first place.
You see I started this
to tell the story of a boy
with a soul brighter than
sunlight hitting your irises
Because there are many more like me
who are afraid of honesty
I know that as long as I remember that
I will not mass produce
emotionally rancid poetry
I feel blessed to be a part of this movement in India and to be able to witness the changing landscape of poetry.
Here’s to many more years of setting the words free- on and off stage.
Rochelle writes about her travels, cultural influences, and personal experiences. Her poems; furnished with deep imagery and functional metaphors provide clear pathways into her world and her ethos. She has been a part of numerous literary fests around India. She curates a monthly poetry open mic in Mumbai called 'Words Tell Stories' that features local and international artists and runs a slam series called 'Mumbai Poetry Slam'. She released India's first poetry and music album titled 'Best Apology Face' in 2017. Her debut collection of poetry, When Home Is An Idea was published in August 2017. She endorses hugs. Follow her on Instagram.