Well versed: The National Youth Poetry Slam finale has star spoken word poets at the mic - Firstpost
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Well versed: The National Youth Poetry Slam finale has star spoken word poets at the mic


"Is there a word for the moment you win tug-of-war? When the weight gives, and all that extra rope comes hurtling towards you, how even though you've won, you still end up with muddy knees and burns on your hands? Is there a word for that? I wish there was." — Sarah Kay

When Sarah Kay – spoken word poet – comes down to India for the National Youth Poetry Grand Slam, being held in Bengaluru over 17-18 September — you can bet she’ll be asked to perform the above verses. That is if she manages to fulfill all the requests for renditions of ‘Hands’, among her most popular poems so far.

Kay will perform at the Grand Slam – a two-day festival of spoken word poetry that marks the finale of the National Youth Poetry Slam (NYPS), where the top-25 college slam teams, selected after a three-month audition process , will compete – alongside Kalki Koechlin, Biswa Kalyan Rath and India’s best slam poets.

At the NYPS Grand Slam, you can expect to hear verses like that of Vinatoli Yeptho, a National University of Judicial Sciences, Kolkata, student who has tackled the issue of racism faced by people from the Northeast in her poem ‘Five Rules For Whomever It May Concern’. The poem, which she performed at the NYPS held at her university, has since gone viral on social media:

Or if the subject of arranged marriages is more to your interest, then here are spoken word poet Priyam Redican’s verses, aptly titled 'Of Marriageable Age’:

The NYPS Grand Slam is curated and produced by Airplane Poetry Movement (in collaboration with Campus Diaries).

What is the Airplane Poetry Movement?

Started in 2013 by two (then) college students Nandini Varma and Shantanu Anand, the APM — inspired by the likes of Sarah Kay, Anis Mojgani and Ocea — hoped to create a platform for spoken word poets to perform their verses in India.

“We have always loved poetry, and we started this initiative when we were in college. Luckily, Campus Diaries, where I work, has supported our initiative since the day we started it,” Nandini Varma told Firstpost in a conversation about the NYPS.

Nandini and Shantanu got the name for their platform in a much-loved poem by Anis Mogjani: ‘For Those Who Can Still Ride in Airplanes’.

As they held open mic nights and poetry slams across various spaces, APM found they were attended not just by students with a penchant for the spoken word, but also individuals whose passion for poetry drew them to the podium.

“That is one reason why we are holding the National Youth Poetry Slam,” Nandini said. The NYPS is one of the first national poetry slams in India. APM is hoping it will give poetry lovers across the nation a chance to connect.

Just why are people drawn to poetry slams? “They’re people who want to express themselves, people who want to get something off their chest,” says Nandini, admitting it’s more of an urban phenomenon. "Well, since the whole concept of slam poetry came from the US, and watching YouTube videos of performances in the US, it is more of an urban phenomenon. But this is just the beginning. And when we were holding auditions for the upcoming National Poetry Slam, there were many colleges from smaller cities that wanted to participate. We were amazed to get such a great response from places like Odisha."

She points to slam events that are gaining traction even at the rural level: “There is a group called Slam Out Loud that is trying to bring poetry to schools in rural areas by giving kids a way to express themselves," Nandini tells us.

Slam Out Loud is a unique initiative that provides children from marginalised communities a platform to express their feelings and voice their opinions through poetry and storytelling, to create a dialouge about things that matter. For so many of the poets who will participate in the NYPS Grand Slam opens in Bengaluru, APM has done just that.

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Aside: What exactly is ‘spoken word poetry’ and how is it different from merely reciting verses aloud? Wikipedia offers a succinct definition — “Spoken word is an oral art that focuses on the aesthetics of word play and intonation and voice inflection. It is a 'catchall' that includes any kind of poetry recited aloud, including hip-hop, jazz poetry, poetry slams, traditional poetry readings and can include comedy routines and 'prose monologues'”

For more details on the NYPS Grand Slam, or to attend the event, log on here.

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