I started writing poetry towards the end of 2012. All my poems, like most beginners, reached out for easy rhymes, became fictional to sound more beautiful, and struggled with telling the same stunted story again and again. Until I met Rochelle D’silva at an open mic in Bandra.
While I found in her a friend I am going to preserve and cherish for the rest of my life, before the friendship, there was poetry. She performed a poem that evening. She performed it; she didn’t recite it, or read it or seek the occasional applause.
She came from Melbourne to a stage in a corner of Bandra and gave us a part of her life in verse. This is when it hit me, that poetry is not to be built like a new property in Bombay that constructs itself by washing off old mill lands. Poetry has actually already built itself inside of you, and spoken word is the medium, is the door, that releases it.
I remember Rochelle struggling between long train rides and having to deal with people who don’t keep their word about organizing events. She wanted to set up a space and a platform to find voices and nurture them into becoming strong and powerful storytellers. ‘This city is trying to kill me’ she used to say, when she was down with a throat infection every two weeks, adjusting to Bombay, running around to fix a venue and a sound system and a time slot and featured poets, for what is now ‘Words Tell Stories’, a monthly open mic event for poetry.
What sets Words Tell Stories apart from the handful of other poetry events that the city has to offer is its undeniable and unending amount of warmth. Over the twelve evenings that Rochelle has single-handedly hosted, we’ve seen so many people attempting poetry for the first time, and this is not easy.
To be able to come up to a stage and make your most personal writing public, without the fear of being judged or mocked by a group of strangers is not easy. And this is possible because Words Tell Stories is built on a foundation of hugs. It is not a lean, mean poetry slam, where people compete or use the decibel of words to outshout each other on a scorecard. Poets are in fact encouraged to go and give other poets and even the audience a hug.
Whenever they perform a line that resonates with all, the audience clicks along, snaps their fingers giving feedback to the poet that says – ‘We hear you!’. It is so remarkable that a girl who couldn’t find her bearings between Mira Road to Khar, has within a year managed to bring to Bombay poets from New York & Kuala Lumpur who have showcased their work and wished they didn’t have to go back.
For me, Words Tell Stories is the only mic, where I never have to decide between which poems to perform. I don’t find the need to eliminate or bar a single emotion, however vulnerable, from its audience. All of my writing over the last two years, thanks to workshops with Rochelle has finally learnt to fly without having to worry about how my poems ‘sound’. I have been soaked into a realization that if you have a story to tell, the poem is already written.
And to tell your story, there isn’t a better stage than Words Tell Stories, that’s waiting to hear from you and hold you in its tight embrace.