Growing number of events showcase performance poetry in Kolkata

City of Joy slowly embraces verse lovers


News - India & You

August 29, 2016

/ By / Kolkata

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Poets in Kolkata are taking to new ways to express themselves.

Poets in Kolkata are taking to new ways to express themselves.

A poetry reading session held in Kolkata recently shows the growing trend of the global culture of poetry performance in the capital of Indian state of West Bengal.

Wandering around New York City or Berlin is sure to lead one to a poetry performance taking place in a bar, cafe, lounge or even the streets. India is far behind in terms of numbers, but echoes of the new performance art of poetry are being found across the country. With events being organised to discuss, perform and recite, dedicated organisations are bringing poetry to a stage.

Cities like the capital of the country New Delhi, or Pune, in the western state of Maharashtra and Bangalore, the capital of south western state of Karnataka, have organisations like Airplane Poetry Movement and Delhi Poetry Slam that lead the way in terms of events and gatherings. Airplane Poetry Movement has been particularly active in promoting this art form of performing and sharing poetry, and is organising an event in Bangalore in September, with a globally recognised face of spoken poetry, Sarah Kay, as a performer and host of the event.

With issues far and wide as love, social justice and substance addiction, poets are choosing to express themselves through performance, eager to interact with the audience. Akash Sinha, a freelance writer who frequents poetry slams and spoken word events said “I speak about mental health issues as an attempt to break the taboo surrounding it”. He added that others, on hearing him speak about such issues, often share their own stories and experiences. Akash closely associates to Rhythm Divine, an organisation based in Kolkata , focused on developing the art of performing poetry.

A slam on racism and sexism

Kolkata has seen a relatively slower shift to poetry performance but is gradually catching up. Last week, a video went viral of a student from the north-eastern state of Nagaland, reciting at a slam held at National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata. Vinatoli Yeptho addressed the racism and sexism that she says she encounters within the mainland of the country and her video was shared extensively on social media.

There are organisations and individuals working to provide space to budding writers to share their work with others. Paper Cup, an artists’ initiatives that sells handmade goods and curios organises poetry slams in the city, and Calcutta Debating Club hosts an annual “Festival of the spoken word”.

Smaller initiatives are also being developed, whether through social media groups or cafes and studios who keep the vibrant culture of performance poetry alive due to their love for the art form. A recent gathering in Kolkata organised by tattoo artist and poetry lover Anirban Roy Choudhury in his studio Forever Poetry saw a number of poets performing in both English and Bengali. Poetess Shreya Bose performed what was “an act of letting go of a close one’s suicide” and added that although she did not frequent too many events such as this one, it was a great way to share her poetry, however personal it may have been. Anirban says “Spoken word or poetry sessions are gatherings of strangers where we often build personal connections that make life better”.

Challenging but fulfilling road

While these events may be an outlet and forum for poets to express themselves and gain visibility, poetry remains a field of writing that finds poor, if any, monetary compensation .Despite turning into a performance art, poets in Kolkata are far from attaining self sustenance merely on the basis of their writing. Akash claimed “ I would love to be published some day but as of now I am working with a friend towards self publishing”. Anirban said “My professors in college told me that poetry is dead and you can’t make a living out of it”.

However, poets remain hopeful, as Anirban added “Verses with depth and honesty have the power to affect and console, and poetry is the one thing that remains constant in doing so”.

With a rise in organised events and gatherings, performance poetry is gaining a visible platform in the City of Joy, slowly but steadily.

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