Literature Other

Is the Word Alive?

Last year, I went to a poetry night hosted by a university student body. I recited my first ever spoken-word piece a way to say goodbye to a girl I shared love with. Cliche as it was, I never regretted that decision of performing. That wasn’t my first time attending a poetry recital. Prior to that I was beginning to frequent If Walls Could Talk, a monthly poetry open mic at Gaslight Cafe. Before all of this however, my earliest exposure of poetry or spoken word is from the pages of books or YouTube videos. I was completely oblivious to a scene that was growing.

Now there are at least three poetry open mics happening monthly around KL. Three regular ones, mind you. Pre-registration performing slots are always filled up so quickly so events like Jack It! or Verbal Diarrhea have seen spoken word poets flocking their stages because of their at the door registration policy. I’ve been to a jazz jam session at a bar and saw a poet spit his lines and work over the drums and bass. There is never a shortage of spaces for people who are brave enough to bare their lines and thoughts to a crowd of people. As our thoughts can be provocative, PoetX is a poetry podcast that allows their featured acts to choose if they want to remain anonymous. This definitely allows visibility to thoughts that are necessary to be heard but not compromising the poet’s safety or identity.

It’s great that more and more spaces are welcoming poets on the performing stage as well. What is widely recognised as rhymes made for pages are now making a significant appearance on stages. These poets also do lots of other things for the scene than just performing. Together with other poets and artists form collectives such as Projek Rabak from Ipoh who also organise book discussions and even open a gallery. And these acts trickle down to other poets who start collectives or create spaces for spoken word poetry in places such as universities. International Islamic University of Malaysia (IIUM) now has a regular open mic called Perjumpaan Makhluk Seni. The organiser Umar Azizi performs frequently at several other open mics before starting his own.

Hussain Ali, a poet from Maldives performs at Jack It!
Hussain Ali, a poet from Maldives performs at Jack It!

As I’m writing this, the same people from Walls are conducting a writing workshop with Australian poet Scotty Wings. Due to a camping trip I was mildly disappointed that I missed that. As a poet, having trouble writing is not something unfamiliar and this is where I’d like to debunk that poetry workshops are only for beginners. Those who are curious about spoken word and people who are already writing can benefit from attending a writing workshop. These spaces where people can do beyond just expressing their thoughts on stage is just as important for people to experience the journey of writing which includes delving into emotions and a safe sharing space where it’s not intimidating. In the words of a fellow poet and DS contributor, “There’s always something to learn in every [poetry] workshop”.

While we’re mentioning workshops it’s also nice to note more and more children too are now learning how to write poetry. Poetry Cafe KL, a collective of spoken word poets frequently works with children and teenagers and help them write and develop their creativity. The rise of interests from educators and parents to arts gives way for them to explore poetry. And having people who are active in the craft, be it writing or performing guiding these kids into it makes me feel hopeful.

Spill the Ink is a poetry writing workshop
Spill the Ink is a poetry writing workshop

This abundance of poetry related events does make me think if it’s merely a trend? Another way of performing trapped in a bubble just waiting to burst and sizzle out? Being to poetry open mics, the performances can be heartfelt with poets breaking down on stage or just them spitting and basking in snaps(instead of clapping, when a poet says something that is so good, the audience snaps their fingers). Either way, the stage has learnt not to discriminate. Both of these takes immense drive and courage to perform in front of a crowd.

My friend also revealed to me that she was invited to perform at a bar hosting a poetry open mic. The reason why the bar collaborated with a startup to host an open mic is that they believe it’s a ‘lucrative way to sell drinks’ since it can pull a decent turnout. Upon hearing this I of course, laughed but I also wondered if there’s anything wrong with this? A decision as such is still offering a stage for anyone who feels like they have something to say as well as allow several poets to establish and make themselves more visible to a different crowd. But it also makes me wonder if they take spoken word and the performers as seriously as other art forms and artists? Would they give their all to provide to performers and treat them as like any other people who provide services?

Being a poet, it’s great to see the scene growing and knowing that there’s literally going to be anyone that is more than willing to come out and hear me say my peace behind a microphone. It’s nice seeing that more people are doing it too! Poetry is no longer snobbish or atas as we get to see people expressing themselves freely without fear of judgement in these spaces. The spaces, paired with fellow engaging poets are a great evidence that the word is alive but it still has a long way to go

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