If you can imagine trends as proverbial snowballs rolling down a hill, gathering momentum and mass as they go along, the start usually begins the very way you’d imagine it to begin – with the dreaded walk up the hill in the first place. The slow, grinding attempts to climb, the miserable beginnings characterised by a slow, laborious ascent that makes your thighs turn into jelly. It’s this very phenomenon of trends that the Slam Poetry Culture in India has shattered with the explosive way that its garnered a following. It’s as if a switch was turned on in the night, leaving multitudes of teenagers electrified and energized within the span of a single night.

In the words of Shantanu Anand, co-founder Airplane Poetry Movement, “Slam poetry is that irreverent, 17-year-old cousin with long, flowing hair and rolled-up sleeves who ambles into a family function 1 hour late, a look of calculated surprise on his face as he notices the eyeballs that have turned his way. As recently as 2011, this was an art-form that few people in India had even heard of. Back then, poetry was more like the 12-year old cousin with oily skin and oversized glasses who was surely never going to get a girlfriend. But that perception has changed now, and how.”

Alright, here’s where an apology is due. It’s not so much the lack of labour that surprised us about the growth slam poetry, it’s the lack of time – because labour has been lacking nowhere. All over the country, feverish young poets have been organising slams, taking part in slams, writing slam poetry, listening to slam poetry and just slamming it out so hard the imaginary Martians can hear us – and it’s all gone down faster than we could notice it.

In this heavy, spinning, constantly evolving, unstable and yet artistically so context – we bring to you Kiana Manian, Nikaya Polsani and Deyvika Srinivasa, from the Bangalore International School. From winning the trophy at the National Youth Poetry Slam to opening for Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye at the Louder Than Words tour, these girls have had a fabulous year – and we hope to bring you the back-story of what led to this.

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Kiana Manian

When every word I want to say rises up inside me, A chokehold around my throat
Bruises form in the shape of of the woman with too many thoughts
How do I explain
That my sex life has no relation to my self respect
That my lipstick doesn’t correlate with my IQ
That my entire fucking life is a screenplay where a man sits in the director’s chair yelling social cues and stage
directions I haven’t even read, much less had the chance to write.

-Kiana Manian, Untitled

“I was introduced to spoken word poetry a year and a half ago, by my English teacher who encouraged up to write poems for class etc. I wrote my first poem around then, when I was 16,” – says 17-year-old Kiana Manian, and as to how she’s accomplished so much in just a year of writing, we’re all confused. Her passion for the art comes out in her words, and she says she connects to all of them, to a point where nothing in her writing remains detached or impersonal.

“The words I wrote were ones I believed, and even though nationality is not a topic very close to my heart, I made sure to approach it from an angle that I was invested in and I could relate to; otherwise your poetry ceases to be yours, in my opinion,” she says.

She displays a special attachment to  the medium as well, and says, “I think spoken word has an edge over written poetry simply because performance adds emotion you can’t get by reading something. The words, gestures, the slight difference in each performance and intonation while speaking adds so much depth to the poetry and makes it a visual, auditory and literary experience that is quite undeniable.”

We asked her about what she intends to do with her work in ten years time, and how she sees herself developing, to which she expressed interest in one day organising and conducting a poetry slam of her. But summing up her experience of the slams she’s been to uptil now, “It was such an incredible feeling to belong to such a talented artistic community.”  

Deyvika Srinivasa

 If you want to flirt with nerd, be careful when you touch her: some days she’s made of paper thin test papers, punctured by blood red correction pen and unfulfilled dreams X’s and ‘can-do- betters’, and black eraser smudges mark the spot of the terrorist attacks of imperfection: her lifelong nemesis.

– Deyvika Srinivasa, Talk Nerdy To Me

When it comes to Deyvika, it seems she started writing even more recently.

“Despite my great interest in spoken word, I only started writing my own work 6 months ago and since then, have performed for my ‘bedroom audience’ a countless number of times and on an actual stage twice.”

Speaking about the Medium itself, she says that she finds it more accessible than written poetry, and more immediate in terms of its impact. She mentions that since written poetry comes with a host of rules and restrictions, “A huge myth has been created that poetry is an elitist or ‘intellectual’ art form. Spoken word helps prove the this is simply untrue and that there’s a place for everyone in poetry. I think that the immediacy of this art form really allows it to have a strong impact on the listener.”

When asked about what her goals are in relation to the art form, she simple answers that she would like to write and perform more. She feels getting involved in campaigns and movements using the medium would be an excellent place to start, and ends with, “I’m just grateful that this medium exists and hopefully, I will be using it for a long time!”

Nikaya Polsani

Every time I don’t raise my hand to speak, I’m reminded that as a girl I have one use for my mouth and it is not talking, I have one use for my legs and it is not walking, I have one use for this body and it is not to live in.

– Nikaya Polsani, Sorry

With Nikaya, her introduction to slam poetry came about earlier and more accidently than the other two. “The first time I watched a slam poem, I was in 8th grade and my best friend accidently pressed a ‘recommended for you’ video.” However, it seems like she spent a few years ruminating over the art form and being in the background, because she goes on to say that her first performance ever was at the National Youth Poetry Slam! Regarding this experience, she goes on to say

“Although I began performing for the sake of a competition, it has quickly grown to performing to express, educate and proliferate my views, beliefs and experiences as an individual. For this reason, my poetry stems from my life, and cathartic.”

The passion that seems almost mandatory for such a performance art is evident in her as well, when she says, “I think that there’s something extremely powerful and intimate watching a person in front of you wear their heart on their sleeve and exuding who they are to a room full of strangers. The connection that forms between a group of people at a poetry slam is unlike anything else which inevitably leads to the impression slam poetry makes on the audience.”

Thus, we can see how, while performance art at this scale is dominated by college students, college festivals and other similar events and people, one can only say a movement has become universal when it permeates past these layers and moves into what can only be called the prequel to these – High School. These girls being on the very cusp of college-hood, what they do and where they go after being introduced to these concepts and these ideas so early, will be very interesting to watch.

By Utkarsh Pathak
For the ATKT.in Editorial Team