September saw one of Mumbai’s first and definitely the most well organised poetry slam competition so far, Words Tell Stories – Invitation Slam hosted by Rochelle D’silva (who was also the emcee for the evening) at The Hive in Bandra.
There have been a few slam events before, but what distinguishes this one, is how well-planned and structured the event was. There were 10 poets pre-selected to perform based on their previous work in the performance poetry scene in Mumbai, who were made to go against each other. Five poets each for Hindi and English gave the evening a mixed flavour since the approach of Hindi poets to spoken word is very different from their English counterparts.
Participants were gauged on 2 parameters: Content and Performance. Three competent judges would assign points out of five to each participant based on these parameters (negative marking in case a participant exceeds the 3 minute time limit- trust me, I was given a buzzer for my role as the time keeper).
At the end, scores were tallied and a winner was chosen from each language category. Winners then received a certificate, a prize and, more importantly, a 15-minute slot to perform at Open Mic on Radio City Freedom!
For those who are unfamiliar with the Slam movement, it was started in 1984 by a construction worker and poet Marc Smith at a Chicago jazz club as a way to promote and revamp open mics. The type of poetry normally at display at such competitions is Spoken Word which is more conversational in tone and is primarily written to be heard rather than just read.
Slams have recently gained popularity with championships happening at the national level. Typically, five audience members are chosen at random as judges; each participant is assigned marks which decide if they proceed to the next round; use of props and musical instruments is discouraged; audience members are free to react vocally to a performer’s piece; a winner is ultimately selected based on top scores mostly getting only bragging rights as a prize.
Words Tells Stories in that sense has changed the game at least in the Indian context with introducing features such as – competent judges, prizes in kind and an open mic at the end.
The competition lasted for 90 minutes with Preeti Vangani and Rakesh Tiwari emerging as winners in the English and Hindi categories respectively. Coincidentally, both of them scored the exact same number of points (25.5/30) when totalled from the judge’s sheet!
We saw a diverse range of topics from satires on rituals to religious unity and identity crises. No wonder that each member of the audience was there till the very end, which also had a surprise treat for them in the form of an open mic.
Everyone in the room was encouraged to step up and perform an original piece which would not be rated by the judges. Overall, the turnout was promising and the environment felt lively enough to change cynical opinions about poetry gigs.
Hopefully, this should trigger more such events in the future which will only help in spreading a healthy poetry culture in a city with an insatiable appetite for art. Congratulations to all the participants and a special thanks to the three judges, the organiser and volunteers for creating a steady vibe.
If you’re interested in performance poetry, but don’t have much experience you can attend a workshop. The next Words Tell Stories Performance Poetry workshop in on 11th October, find more information about the same here.
Also, the next Words Tell Stories open mic is on 13th Oct at iBar, check out the event link and come along for a fun evening of poetry and honest conversations.
– Jitesh Jaggi
Here’s some pictures from the evening 🙂