Example poetry

The possibilities of slam poetry

The evening of September 8 at the Daily Star Center saw an outpouring of verse in front of a live and very, very interactive audience. Daily Star Books and SHOUT jointly launched our series of Slam Poetry Nights – an evening, each month, of verses recited in the spirit of creative freedom, freedom to think and talk about the things that make us happy, angry, miserable, excited.

We heard poems recited about life in Dhaka, frustrating and inspiring as always; we heard poems about free speech, about memories of exploitation, mental health, women’s agency, about cats and gardens and young love.

Second e second e manush mortese tinsho/ Ekhon tumi kaader shathe mishcho/ Shudhu toh morche toh nah, Sir/ Purtese joltese jinda kobor hoye jaitese eeter tole/ Tobu hay bhalo basha, Cheeler moto hoye keno je ure ure berao/ Shororer mathar upore. “Telephone”, the last performance of the evening by Azmain Haque, really rocked the house.

Before that, however, we saw something more moving than mere recitations.

“When I realized I was the youngest performer of the night, I felt really insecure about my poem,” Nusaiba Nawar, whose poem has turned Nakshi Kantha into a web of memories, tells me. “But people were really listening to me, responding and really caring about my poetry. That’s all you can ask for.”

“Each poem performed had a different flavor and style. The diversity and voices were a surreal experience,” she adds.

Kazi Mahdi Amin, whose poems focused on love, death and Dhaka’s morbidity, said: “I have found hope seeing people so empowered by literature in a world where social media videos social are the jam.”

Between these performances, talking to the audience – who had huddled on the floor in the warmly dimly lit auditorium – sparked feelings that many of us share about poetry, a form often difficult to grasp, and even less to master writing.

“I write a word that strongly resembles how I feel, as specific as possible. And then I add a few more words. It then turns into a line, then I add a few more lines. Slowly I decorate those words with more words, and it ends up looking like the first draft of a poem,” says AM Fahad.

Fahad started writing poetry in response to Dante divine comedy-the way he incorporated random and meaningful characters into the “fanfiction” of the story.

“The first poem I wrote was also an epic narrative poem (much like the divine comedy)”, shares Fahad, “although if I read it now, I would probably review 90% of it. But that just means I’m growing.”

“I think it’s important to remember that the real work is done during editing,” echoes Zareef Daian, who recited a poem about loneliness. “Watching other people perform made me realize that I have a lot to improve on. To start with, I need to know what to do with my hands during a performance,” he says.

Joyita Faruk, whose ‘Spiral’ opened the evening, shares, “It’s a poem that speaks to me deeply about anxiety, self-hatred and their tendencies to escalate and lock someone in a pit that it’s hard to get out.”

These writers are all readers who also exist on a generous diet of verse – Mary Oliver, Sylvia Plath, Adrienne Rich and Kaiser Haq have been mentioned as favorites.

Joyita Faruk, Zareef Daian, Samiul Habib Utsho, Nazifa Raidah, AM Fahad, Anik Khan, Nusaiba Nawar, Azmin Azran, Kazi Mahdi Amin, Rono and Azmain Haque. The 12 participants of our first Slam Poetry Night had been selected from a large number of applications that we received as soon as the program was announced.

Guests and participants meet for a photo at the end of the evening. Photo: Chakma Orchid

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Guests and participants meet for a photo at the end of the evening. Photo: Chakma Orchid

Even more exciting was the response we received from the audience at the event, many of whom took to the stage for impromptu recitations, discussions about what moves and annoys them about poetry, and their hopes and dreams of Bangladesh’s creative writing scene.

They want the land to be more accessible to people outside of Dhaka. They want more exposure for writers from diverse backgrounds. They want discussions about music, philosophy, psychology, literature, life experiences. They want to see more innovation, a reinvention of the notion of what art can be, a removal of boundaries.

In an effort to deliver some of that and maybe more, SHOUT and Daily Star Books’ Slam Poetry Nights will return next month. Follow our social media pages for updates.

Sarah Anjum Bari is publisher of Daily Star Books. Reach her at [email protected] and @wordsinteal on Instagram and Twitter.


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