South Asia is a region of diversity with a peculiar cultural unity. Rich in history, languages, literature and philosophy, the region has explored humanity through religion, art, monuments, food, music, dance, and poetry. Increasingly, poetry today is becoming a striking method of self-expression. Spoken word poetry especially reaches out to a wide audience base and builds a powerful platform for artists to speak on various social issues through their own identities and experiences.
WHAT IS SPOKEN WORD POETRY?
It is a broad term that defines poetry intended for performance. It can contain elements of rap, hip-hop, storytelling, theater, along with jazz, rock, blues, and folk music. The main characteristics that encompass spoken word poetry is that it includes rhyme, repetition, improvisation, and word play. It can draw influence from music, dance, or other popular themes to connect with the audiences. Spoken word poetry doesn’t always have to rhyme, but certain parts can be rhymed to emphasize an image or give it a lyrical quality.
WHEN DID PEOPLE START USING IT?
A majority of the American spoken-word poetry traces its origin to the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance, blues, and the beat generation of the 60s. It relied heavily on the African-American culture, which is rich in literary and musical heritage. The form of poetry then made its way to other parts of the world to places in South Asia.
Some South Asian poets should definitely listen to–
The 16-year-old founder and curator of UnErase has made waves. His poems challenge how far we’ve really come with gender equality and discuss themes like power structures, marital rape, toxic masculinity, the misogyny and normalized violence that still exist. One of his hit poems in 2018 was on the same topic. It is very well articulated and certainly provides some food for thought.
This 22-year-old poet often makes her works based on personal experiences and thoughts, which are quite relatable. She has always felt that schools, and their systems leave less and less space for individual freedom. Her poems talk about current and important issues like mental health, politics, dissent against society and its institutions, the objectification of women, and so on.
You may have seen or heard the poem titled ‘Before You Commit Suicide’ on some form of social media. The moving poem boldly talks about someone that is on the verge of doing so, and is a very, very powerful work. Nagpal is also part of an NGO called Save The Children, which focuses on improving the lives of underprivileged children in India. Some of her other poems revolve around topics like gender issues, sexuality and mental health.
Jaunpuri, who is a civil engineer- turned-founder of Aao Kahen Dil Ki Baat (a sharing program that allows people to share their secrets in public), writes defiant pieces that usually question social institutions and power dynamics. Along with that, he is also a part of the renowned theater group Jashn-E-Qalam Storytelling. His poems are typically performed in Hindi and Urdu, and are beautiful because of their simplistic qualities, making them that much more impactful.
Bharath Savithri Diwakar
Bharath Savithri Diwakar is a Bangalore-based poet and storyteller. Not subscribing to gender norms, they speak about sexuality, mental health and body image issues. They were a mentor for India’s first National Youth Poetry Slam and frequently featured in Airplane Poetry Movement events. After the success of their solo show, Fluid, they recently performed at Spoken Fest in Bombay.
Abbas’s origin story stems from the unfair treatment of marginalized communities in India and the perpetual state of fear they live in. She uses Urdu and Awadhi, instead of English. Her poems, which aim to amplify the voices of marginalized communities, are performed in public spaces. She emphasizes how in times of shared grief, especially in India, people can instill hope in one another by standing up for what is right. The 25-year-old Abbas, who is originally from Lucknow and now lives in Pune, has given a TEDx talk, “Challenging The Order of Patriarchy.”
HOW CAN YOU SUPPORT THESE ARTISTS?
In the digital age, it’s very easy to find any of these poems online. To make them more popular and help them get the recognition they deserve, you can watch, like, comment and share it with your friends and family. This article is our endeavor to explore the South Asian spoken word poetry and highlight some thriving artists in the field.