Spoken word poetry sees a growing community in Chennai, aided by open mics and slam poetry events, which promise to be safe spaces for personal exploration

“Whenever I write something, I love reading it aloud because I feel like I am giving life to something,” says Sripratha Murali Krishnan, a budding poet, storyteller and college student.

As more open mics and slam poetry events spring up in the city, first-time and seasoned performers are ready to step out of their comfort zones.

Varsha VR, co-founder of Uncalled Knacks, a Chennai-based open mic community says, “At least 57 performances were poetry [open mics] in the last eight months.” Thomas Davis of House of T, another open mic community in Chennai agrees, “It used to be four to eight poets per show. Now, a minimum of 12 to 20 poets perform for eight minutes each.”

The outfit also conducted online events during the lockdowns where music and poetry were shared on Zoom. In parallel lines, Vishwas Kenkare Prakash, founder of Do WithLIT, a pan-India open mic creative adds, “At least 10 to 15 poets are eager to perform regularly in every show.” Of which, 40% to 50% are novice poets who perform for the first time.

Vishwas says Chennai is a “a fantastic place” for poetry. “Spoken word poetry is growing immensely and there are easily around 60 to 70 poets in the city who regularly perform and more than 1,000 to 2,000 poets in the city eagerly waiting for a stage. We aim to have at least five to six open mics and 10-plus production shows in 2022.”

This level of growth gives first-time performers and their audience a chance to explore their art in safe spaces. “Art needs artistes and artistes need an audience. We try to be a bridge between them,” says Varsha.

Amplifying emotion

Vidhya Rajagopalan, co-founder of the poetry collective Project Prodets, says there has been a visible effort to amplify the city’s artistic voices in the last two years.

“In the last two years, we have conducted a lot of workshops — spoken word performance workshop, poetry writing and editing workshops, poetry appreciation workshops to help people make better use of their time,” says Michelle Ann James of Mockingbirds, Chennai’s first spoken word poetry collective, active since 2015.

These events try to break free of convention and encourage artistes and their audience to come together to explore relatable experiences and find a shared sense of comfort and empathy.

Coming up

  • An Unexplored Mic will take place on January 8 at The ARTery, Royapettah, from 2pm to 4pm
  • The second edition of From The Drafts will take place at SNS Arts Development Consultancy, Mylapore, on January 22, from 4pm to 6pm

“I am an introvert. Performance and slam poetry is one way to get over that introversion. Being an introvert is not a bad thing but being a social introvert is having the best of both worlds. This is why I perform my poetry,” says Harrinei Kumaravel, poet and storyteller.

Moreover, spoken word poetry does not fall into the realm of public speaking as the performance is part of the poem and thus cannot be dictated. Now, someone with a soft voice and simple things to say also has an opportunity to grab the mic.

“We still have book-reading poets who write their content but still read it off pages. There are a few performing poets too. It is beautiful to listen to them because raw emotions are put out, through the entire piece,” says Thomas, founder of House of T.

Though the community is growing, the city can pick up the pace, says Michelle.

She adds, “We don’t lack performers but it is a lack of understanding. We don’t have large-scale literary festivals which is sad. But people have been seeking art in the last two years more than ever, which is a success.”

The collectives can be reached at: [email protected] , [email protected], [email protected], [email protected]

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