Back to life, back to reality: the power of poetry slams

Many people seem to view poetry as a small, forgotten genre in our fast-paced media world.  Poetry is an art form that requires time to be deciphered and we cannot find the patience for it.

We tend to associate this poetry with tedious school lessons where teachers questioned the many meanings of the same metaphor, simile or rhyme. As a result some of us may see poetry as only existing in complex, Shakespearean forms.

However, the idea that poetry is a dying, ancient literary style could not be more wrong. Poets around the world are extrapolating this genre to encompass all kinds of different subjects in new and exciting ways. Today’s poets are maintaining the unique beauty of this writing style while exploring new techniques and challenging the assumptions many of us hold. There is no better way to experience this rapidly changing genre than to attend a poetry slam.

These events allow poets to take the words they have written from the pages of their notebooks and bring them to life in front of audiences. Since poetry slams are essentially competitions, the poets themselves are competing not only in their poetry style but also in their performances; each poet must try to evoke the biggest emotional response from their audience whether it be from sadness, happiness or hilarity. These vibrant slams are full of life and give poets a unique platform to try out new ideas, meet other poets and perform.

Edinburgh’s Literature Society organised a Poetry Slam as a fund-raiser for their near-sold-out Midsummer Night’s Dream Ball and it did not disappoint. While the crowd could have been larger, the energy of the poets themselves made up for it.

Rhylee Callan kick-started the night with a pixie’s guide to getting anyone to fall in love with you. It was an energetic performance which advised the audience on how to make your subject think “that the stars only shine within your bloodstream.” Vishwani Chauhan followed with a powerful poem narrating identity struggle, along with the difficulties of striking a balance between ancestral culture and a very different upbringing. Max Scratchmann then performed a very moving poem about “messy, uncontrollable human emotions” and family heartbreaks.

Breaking this heart-wrenching trend was Christopher Henson, whose fast-paced poem joked about Robert Burn’s poem ‘A Red, Red Rose’, with a modern, comedic take on this classic. Eileen Xu followed Henson with a poem about self-harm: a beautifully written and moving tale about people who want to be just like all the other “sad, pretty girls.”

Scott Redmond came next, speaking at the speed of light and jumping on the tables to the audience’s delight (see, I can rhyme too!). Ritzy Rajaswi was penultimate, softly delivering his tale of love and loss: his emotions clear between the words. Nolan Dannels concluded with a frustrated and powerful poem addressing the NHS. Following a brief interval, the second round commenced and four more incredible poets performed. Finally a winner was announced: Christopher Henson.

This underground movement is breathing life into poetry, and such performances allow both amateur and expert audience members to understand the emotions behind these meaningful pieces of work. Poetry is coming back!

The Edinburgh University Literature Society Poetry Slam
Teviot Row House
15th March 2017

Photo credit: Stephanie Stevenson

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