Through the urging of friends, I found myself at my first Poetry Slam last Saturday organised by one of our puisi-poesy members, and to top it off, I was asked to be one of the five judges (Oh no!).
This is the first Poetry Slam ever in Malaysia, and to help us along to kickstart things were new friends from Singapore, Chris Mooney-Singh, his wife and their team from Word Forward. A poetry slam is a showcase of the competitive art of performance poetry, where equal emphasis is given to the ability to deliver a poem, as much as the poetic content itself.
It turned out to be really fun and I enjoyed myself, surviving the boos from the audience for being a meanie, but I would like to think I was a pretty fair, at least, though maybe a bit critical, given my familiarity and preference for written poetry.
(Personal opinion only, so please don’t take offence from a baby tricycle riding judge)
Among the KL poets, there was Tshiung Han See whose poem was interesting, but too short and not well delivered enough for me to evaluate very well, as much as I wanted to give him more marks. Jasmine Low shared a poem about her father, which was nice, but perhaps more suited as a poem on a page, plus I wanted more from her poem. Dato’ Shan’s political poem fatty fatty bomb bomb was humorous, and reminded me of Cecil Rajendra’s poetic style, but I think it was a little lightweight, considering the difficulty of effectively managing the simplicity of the diction with humour and the seriousness of its critique. Flynn Jamal was wonderfully dramatic, acting out characters with their soliloquys, but I could only give her marks on performance, but not content. Her friend, Nur Sheena Baharudin is really promising and had something going with her two poems. I liked her imagery and her use of words, especially the weaving of Malay words poetically into the second poem. Her blending of a song fragment into her first piece was creative, and not jarring in the context of the poem.
Meanwhile, Sharanya seduced the judges with her sensuous imploring to be made love to in her first poem. Sharanya’s delivery was perfect and the poem was also effective through the repetition of its rhythm. KG’s poem probably suffered, coming after Sharanya. He definitely has a good feel for language, but I felt he could have done a bit more with his piece (KG, hope you’re not angry with this). Peter Brown was the controversial decision for me, because I gave him the lowest mark for his fritter away, It is probably a case of my own personal taste, but I couldn’t quite find anything poetic in his first poem, that’s why I decided to fail him. No doubt, he is a consummate entertainer, and probably the best among the other contestants in that department, especially with his second ‘vigorous’ poem and his simulation of sex, so I gave him better marks for that, and for the fact that he had a good flow going too. His third and last piece was his best, a limerick that had some control of rhythm, rhyme and choice of words, but the repeated phrase “losing nature” …mmm… could probably be replaced with something better, I think..
The Singaporean poets, who were by far more experienced, put on a good show. Pooja Nansi had a very good first poem on how the difference in one’s manner of speaking may give rise to discrimination, and how different speakers of the English language may claim it as their own. Her second poem was equally good, but as with her first, her delivery wasn’t the best when compared to the others, and perhaps a bit of the complexity in the second poem became a stumbling block for two of the other judges, hence her not making it to the final, which was a pity. I found myself liking Bani Haykkal’s Apocalypse, and if I am not mistaken and do remember correctly, there was a very apt and effective imagery and metaphor of stacked cars. Too bad he didn’t go further, as I would have like to hear him perform another poem.
The person who took the first prize was S’porean Marc Nair, and a deserving winner at that. His first poem was on Milo addicts who impressed all the judges including me, though I later decided to deduct some marks for it being overly long and not focused enough. His second on poetry and TV was both a performance and writing feat in itself, going fast and furious along the lines, as his poem wove in and out smoothly from references to one TV show to another. Not only that, I think I sense substance in the poem, though it was too fast to catch. His last poem was also excellent and worked on smoking as a metaphor for reading or writing poetry.- a fresh idea that I enjoyed. Sharanya who was also in the final together with Peter shared a poem about a metaphorical wolf, which for me wasn't well developed throughout and came across a little flat. So, in the end, Marc’s good delivery, as well as the craft of his poems, and the variety of their subject matter help him clinch his win.
Indeed, it was good to see that neither nationalistic pride nor cross-straits rivalry between our two counties weigh in the judging. The other judges did a very good job, considering that some of them didn’t exactly read poetry, but that also goes to show too that poetry is something that is probably universally intuitive in a way, despite people having obvious differences in tastes.
Poetry slam is truly a wonderful way of opening up opportunities to aspiring poets, generating public interest in poetry and popularising it as an art form in an age of IPods, the internet and 3G communications. In this sense, performance poetry in conjunction with poetry slam would be able to engage ordinary people with its immediacy and accessibility. However, I would add that for me at least, performance poetry shouldn't be mistaken as anything-goes-self-expression, because as much as this medium allows for various forms of personal creative freedom in language and presentation, poetry is still an art, a craft that carries and draws upon a certain aesthetic sensibility and soul.
Oh yeah, I forgot about the pictures... which you can find here, under the heading The Python and the Poets
Labels: Performance poetry, Poetry Slam, Word Forward Singapore