by SLOK GYAWALI
The "group" under spotlight is Word Warriors. I am hesitant to use the word group here because Word Warriors is neither a formal group, nor does it pretend to be one. It's better described as a collection of poets and poetry lovers who want to be part of the growing spoken word poetry culture in Kathmandu. As a loose gathering of individuals who share a common passion, there are no formal procedures, leaders high priests or elections. You are free to join and free to leave. No commitments needed.
World Warriors started as a matter of chance. Founder Pranab Singh, who is also the co-founder of Quixote's Cove says "It started after we [the US Embassy and Quixote's Cove] hosted three American Slam poets in December 2010. The group was formed to give continuity to the workshops and inter-school slam competition (QC Awards 2010). We met regularly, posted on Facebook and occasionally performed around town to promote slam and get more people interested in it." Today, Word Warriors counts 261 members and that figure grows every day.
The warriors get together once in a while to share poems, stories, techniques and exchange criticism while learning from each other. However, gatherings are disappointingly rare and much of the sharing of verses and ideas happens -and unsurprisingly on Facebook. Many post their work online in hopes of receiving constructive criticism. Often there are debates on the "if and buts" of poetry and its relevance, all adding to the mutual growth of poets and their work. In the last two years, members of Word Warriors have performed in schools, cultural programs, bars and other "artsy" event functions.
At this point, I think it's important to explain what the word poetry is. Given that genres are hard to define, spoken word poetry is an art form where poets perform their poem in front of an audience. The key word is perform. Modern spoken word poetry finds its roots in the Harlem Renaissance of 1920's and 30's. But it was not until the 1960's and 70's that this form became popular in the underground African-American community.
In the 1990's, with a eignited interested in the Beat Generation, spoken word poetry found space in many American schools and universities. Poetry was once again being brought back to the people. This, some argue, is the true goal of spoken word poetry: to democratise the art form that has, unfortunately, been perceived as a prerogative of intellectuals.
The spoken word movement has given space to people, especially the younger generation to express themselves in a way that doesn't find enthusiastic encouragement in the traditional arts. Spoken word poetry has no rules on what you can say and how you can say it.
People use this craft to talk about almost everything. There are poems on anger, sex, god, politics, family, love, happiness, cartoons, jobs, gender, and that is just the tip of the ice-berg. Performance poetry takes the best of hip-hop, theatre and poetry. Like any other performance based art, it feeds on the feedback of the audience.
The poet feels the mood of the audience, flirts with them, seduces them, and the audience responds accordingly. They judge the poem on its presentation, sense of humour and its style. And they are either seduced or repelled by the ferocity of words. If all goes well, the performance ends with a climatic applause of appreciation. In spoken word poetry indifference is the worst outcome.
Vital to the growth of spoken poetry are poetry slams: where poets compete with each other and are scored on their performance by random pre-selected judges from the audience. The highest scorers move on to the next round until there is a single winner at the end, giving this art form a sport like competitive edge. Word Warriors has organised and participated in a number of slams around town to fairly awed audience.
Word Warriors has created a platform for spoken poetry amongst the various art forms vying for space in certain Kathmandu circles. I say Kathmandu because spoken poetry has yet to devolve to Nepal's other cultural hubs. So far there is a very urban vibe to the art, and its survival depends on how quickly it can break out of this urban bubble. The pre-existing tradition of spoken word poetry has allowed the art and the group to expand fairly quickly in the last two years and the best way forward would be to blend the subtlety and wit of Nepali tradition with the theatrical in-your-face style of poetry slam.
Spoken poetry and Word Warrior would do better if there were more regular performers and performance opportunities. While there are many members on the Facebook page, there are few regulars who come out to perform on stage. And even those who do, still lack technical skills and depth to match poets from cultures where slam poetry is already established
Word Warrior is also handicapped because of inexperienced and relatively small audiences. However, the future looks promising and with time these minor obstacles can be overcome. As audiences grow the quality of poets will improve and as the quality improves the audiences will increase.
Sanket Shrestha, 19, a rising slam poet says "Spoken poetry will be stronger than before. Much stronger than now. Poets will continue to write. Sooner or later we will find people who love our poems and we will define and set our own standards for spoken poetry."
I agree. Word is spreading and the audience is curious. Too much needs to be said and we don't have enough warriors to tell our stories. Word Warriors are hungry for encouragement, appreciation, and for a stage to jump onto, perform and share our talents. So next time you hear about a poetry slam event or spoken poetry, show up, be a part of the movement, encourage the artists and enjoy.
…and me, one of those millions pondering, complaining & questioning from the surface, i eat it up...
you are bound by a tight itching invisible rope from head to toe battle ready with no control, zero command read to be hung by a moose in a tree made of willows and irons the barks reinforced by his lies, his roots of drunken disaster which he shames so clearly in a hangover state of maniac incisions told to do what, when, how, your birth, your present, your future hand-written in a small sheet of dirty paper with their hand markings: grease and false sweat all decorating smudge marks
The wind carries the prayers in the flags to the deceased, they say.
…When the monsters come out of hiding