Sunday, April 01, 2007

The Python and the Poets

I have to tell you now that I deliberately didn't organise "Readings" at Seksan's for this month because I was playing "wait and see" with the litfest. I wondered if I could filch some interesting writers and do something with them on the Saturday afternoon. As it happened things turned out just nicely.

Chris Mooney-Singh of WordForward who organises poetry slams in Singapore was down for the festival, but few of our local poets were able to attend the sessions as they were held during the day and the festival organisers apparently could not accommodate an evening event. Chris contacted Sunitha of British Council who contacted me. Yes, yes, I said. Give it to us!

I've been wanting to attend a poetry slam for some time, reading enviously about live literature events and hanging out at Chris' website. Live literature has really been taking off over the last year, thanks in large part to the British Council who have been bringing in excellent UK performance poets, and to our local poets who have been organising spoken word events around the city under the umbrellas of Project OMG and Doppelgangers. But those involved in organising poetry events were wondering ... was KL ready for the competitive sport of a poetry slam yet and how would it work anyway? Would our poets be so devastated if they got voted out in the early rounds that they would never pick up a pen again? Would our judges be terribly cruel and our audiences be baying for blood?

Saturday was therefore what you might consider a safe experiment. Home ground. The supportive folk who turn up month after month for a very mixed bag of writers. Enough wine from La Bodega to sedate the boozers. And Chris Mooney-Singh to gently ease us into the sport and three of his poets from the Lion City willing to be sacrificed to the KL lions!

Among the first to turn up before the slam was a python called Bobby, owned by one of our KL slammers, Fynn Jamal, pictured below with her friend and fellow slammer Sheena Baharuddin.

(You will of course appreciate my artistically blurry pics of the afternoon. Next time I might take some boringly conventional shots with my camera on the right settings!)

Fynn and Sheena were directed my way by Dr. Faridah Manaaf who is at present in the US. Both are her students and I know that she would have been very proud of them.

Before we began, Chris briefed the audience and laid out the rules for us. We were encouraged to cheer and clap and show our appreciation when we were enjoying the poetry, but could click our fingers and stamp our feet when we found the performance dragging. (Audience members latched on to the slam protocol very quickly indeed!)

We had our judges, with their little white boards. (Sorry I cut off Eugene on the far left of the photo ... but he had his face covered anyway!) The qualifications for being a judge? these were the folks who didn't know the slammers, or didn't know anything about poetry, or who watch American Idol and know all about the cruel process of elimination, or in Eugene's case read only poetry on the page. The judges were scattered throughout the audience. The group of young ladies on the far right jointly played the role of one judge as "The Fireflies". They are all TESL students from the University of Malaya. (I made the boo-boo of telling them to help themselves to wine if they were old enough to drink!!) Winnie, sitting next to me, was a particularly exacting judge. ("Well, we ARE supposed to eliminate people," she said.) Boooooooo. Hissssssssss.

Quite so.

Actually we would have asked Bobby the python to be an impartial judge, but he slithered inside Fynn's handbag and spent the afternoon napping.

Chris warmed up the audience with a few pieces including his wonderful The Word Must Rock! a poem about poetry slam (which is podcast here) and some poems with poet Chuck Kramer. Then his group of young slam poets up from Singapore gave us a poem about which they had jointly written in the coffee shop of the hotel where they are staying ...

... and Peter Hassan Brown sang for us, with Markiza providing background vocals.

And then it was time for the slam proper. Each poet got a maximum of three minutes to strut their stuff and names were called picked out at random. Our other valiant slammers were (blurrily):

Tshiung Han See

Jasmine Low (with Chris in the background)

Dato SHANmugalingam with his Fatty Fatty Bomb Bomb poem.

kG ...

Peter Hassan Brown - who won third prize! I think it was his naughty poem Vigorous that did it.

... and Pooja Nansi - her first poem hitting at British stereotypes about India was one of my favourites of the afternoon. She got voted out in the second round but the audience started chanting that they wanted her back. Fat chance - the judges had spoken.

Fynn ... in motion. She has such a great husky voice and a very dramatic style!

Sharanya seduced everyone and came in second.

Sheena ...

... and Bani Haykkal.

Marc Nair was the winner! (Loved his poem about Milo addiction).

So will we do it again? Well, Chris and I parted yesterday evening saying "Next time ...".

Thanks Seksan for the incredible space - it's a debt of gratitude that really can't be repaid. (And sorry Bobby tried to bite you.)

Thanks La Bodega for the wine.

Thanks to the poets - all of you are winners.

Thanks to Chris and Savinder for bringing us this wonderful gift.

Thanks to the great audience who gave their support. (There were 76 of you. Reza counted.)

Thanks Kenny for the blog poster.

Thanks Reza for helping with the sound.

Thanks Peter for the microphone and amp and the music.

Thanks to those who helped to clear up afterwards.

And to Bobby the python for becoming our slam mascot.

Other things to read on slam:

Chris Mooney-Singh talks about Poetry Slam™ in Singapore on the ChannelNewsAsia website. Singaporean student Soh Wee Ling about her experience of taking part in a slam (from the Straits Times). The National Library Board of Singapore have a list of useful books for people who want to know more about poetry slams.

Links to other blogs:

kG suffers literary overload. Leon's pictures are wonderful!
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.
says Dreamer Idiot on our Puisi-Poesy blog giving his honest impressions of each performer. He was one of the judges on Saturday.

The New Straits Times also covered the event, and it's also featured in this piece by Bernice Chauly on the Kakiseni website.


The Angry Medic said...

Dangit. Every time I read about these events, I curse my luck for not being around to attend them.

I can understand what they must've gone through...our Smokers over here are the same, except with stand-up comedians instead of poets. Must attend one of these things and see if the audience is equally brutal (if not more. Shudder).

Anonymous said...

I'm ENVIOUS! You made me laugh, so ok, I'll go suck a corner of my blanket. Rox (Abroad)

bibliobibuli said...

well guys, if this takes off maybe you will be taking part in a future one!

Kenny Mah said...

Great write-up, Sharon! I'll post my version as soon as I get to catch my breath! First day at new job today ... wish me luck, folks! ;)

gRaCe said...

terrific write-up Sharon..=D i had loads of fun the on sat.. especially being a judge. ;o)

Kenny Mah said...

Okay, finally got my version up. Sorry it took so long, new job and all. :(

Faridah said...

I'm glad it went well.Well done Sharon and Chris! I didn't know Fynn had a python as a pet.Oh wow!

I'd like to suggest that the next slam is done at an orphanage or old folks' home...that way we'd share the joy of life/words with the less unfortunate.

bibliobibuli said...

nice idea faridah - we need to take poetry out ...

Anonymous said...

So good to see so many people I have a lot of love for together in the same space - and good to hear that everything went so well... ;)

bibliobibuli said...

hi jacob! really nice to have you drop by. i think the visiting poets inc. yourself, malika booker, francesca beard, benjamin zephaniah - have really ignited a spark here! many many thanks

some of the other young folks from your workshop will be appearing at our usual "readings" - nicholas wong this month, and a bit further down the line i hope to get liyana yusof and priya k. (not everyone could make it for the first slam)

chris and i have plans too to go ahead with more poetry slams and are just working out venues and logistics