Voice Your Musings

March 4, 2016 , by Asmita Mali Manandhar, Leave your thoughts
Expanding the Spoken Word Poetry scene through Write to Speak.

Outside the window from the hotel room at Narayangarh, Chitwan, the warm afternoon sun is vaporising any hint of chilliness from the mid-spring air. Inside, spread all over the hotel room, is the escalating heat of preparation from five spoken word poets for their public performance later in the evening. There is rustling of papers, sounds of pen scribbling, commentaries on each other’s works, occasional giggles and a constant hum of memorising the lines under their breath.

“It takes hours to copy a poem that will probably take little more than 30 seconds to perform,” says Samip Dhungel as he struggles to jot his verses in a fresh piece of paper he borrowed from his fellow poet Nasala Chitrakar and a pen borrowed from me. And even before he is finished copying it all, the pen runs out of ink, “this proves that the poem is definitely long,” he declares to no one in particular.

It has been a week since the poets have settled down in the same hotel room in Narayangarh as a part of the “Write to Speak” project jointly worked on by Quixote’s Cove and Word Warriors. The team of six leaded by Ujjwala Maharjan and Yukta Bajracharya includes Samip, Nasala, Milan Neupane and documenting their journey is Kshitiz Shrestha. The hustle and bustle in and around the hotel room that fine Friday afternoon is the beginning of the end of their first phase of the introductory tour in Narayangarh.


Since the previous Saturday afternoon, they have visited 15 schools and colleges to spread the word about their project that offers free poetry workshop for about 80 participants. “That’s the maximum limit for the introductory workshop, from there, we then select 20-25 participants,” explains Yukta. The introductory and intensive workshop, spread over in four phases aims to bring poetry closer to the young adults – to reintroduce it as more accessible and comfortable form of art to express oneself.

“I think what we want to do is break the idea of sophistication attached to this form of art. Many young people tend to think that poetry should be about something significant with larger than life metaphors, but that’s not the wholesome definition,” says Milan, who has accompanied the group for the first time for the project.

Unlike Milan, the other members of the team have gathered more experiences from their tours in Kavre, Pokhara and Kathmandu. They seem to be happy with the amount of work been done for and on the project but there are also some disappointments. “The current political situation has affected our program a lot. We had to let go of our plans to cover the districts in Terai plains. We were at Birgunj when the earthquake occurred,” says Yukta. They had to leave the Birjung tour halfway through the introductory phase due to earthquake in April and they could never complete it after the Madhesh movement that ensued much instability in the region. So far, they have completed both introductory and intensive workshops in Kathmandu and Pokhara, introductory workshop in Kavre and most probably will hold introductory workshop for Chitwan around the first week of March.


With all the practices earned from touring different districts, there is an air of ease and comfort when the team sets out for the visits to the educational institutions to encourage the students to participate. Just a day before the public performance, it was the last day for the group to visit schools, distribute forms and encourage the students to participate. At nine in the morning, the team is waiting for “Magic”, a popular vehicle for public transportation in Narayangarh to help them take trips to three schools around the town. As soon as they are shown towards a hall at the first school of the day, the team get to work immediately, fixing the flex stands, speakers, microphone and wait as their audiences finish the morning assembly time.

The place gets crowded as the fourteen and fifteen year olds curiously gaze at the strange smiling faces and try reading the banners at each side of the mic-stand. When Samip greets them at first, there is an obvious hesitation from the crowd but he is able to change that in less than 30 seconds after he raps to few verses from Rastra Kavi (Poet of nation) Madhav Prasad Ghimire’s work. And as other poets take to the stage, the greeting is clearer and applause louder, the next 20 minutes fills the room with smiles, laughter, awe and curiosity.

Niraj Dhital, 15, a ninth grader at Chitwan English Secondary Boarding School, is most seemingly in amazement of what just transpired in front of him. When Samip asks the crowd to raise their hands if they want the registration forms, Niraj throws his hand instantly in the air without a second thought. “I have never recited my poem in public but I have never seen anyone recite theirs in this way either,” he says with a shy smile.


“This batch was much quieter and disciplined,” says Ujjwala with a beaming smile as she and the team head back to their ride waiting outside the school gate. The team agree in unison on her comment. As the microbus makes way to the second school of the day, she adds that it is not always good to have a group of tamed students, “Sometimes it seems they are refraining from exploring their curiosity,” but quickly adds that it is better than a rowdy bunch where they can barely articulate their ideas. “The variation in the reaction of the students actually keeps this job from getting mundane,” says Samip.

The group doesn’t have to struggle much with the next two schools either – this is a good day! But it doesn’t mean they don’t have to work on convincing students to be part of the project or more importantly to induce them into poetry.

“Who loves writing poems?” – few hands on the air. “Who dislikes poems?” – a significant number of hands on the air. “Well, our aim is to reduce the number of hands when I ask the second question again at the end of this session, okay?” This is how Samip starts off the program for the third school for the day and the last one for the entire project. And undoubtedly, the reaction is same as the last two schools of the day and at the end Samip has a last question, “So who wants the forms?” And the maximum numbers of hands are raised from the same corner who had claimed they are not very fond of poetry in the beginning.

As the group begins to wrap up for the day, Om Kumar Shrestha, Principal of Balkumari School feeling the enthusiasm building in his students, makes a special request to Ujjwala to recite another poem, “Jibro” (tongue) which entails her struggles of trying to hide her Nepal Bhasa accent despite it being her mother tongue, in favour of clean and articulate Nepali. “More than 50% of our students come from Newar community, so I wanted them to particularly listen to it to help them wash away any hint of humiliation on their originality,” explains the principal.

This simple request from the headmaster actually elucidates the extent of possibilities laid out by Spoken word poetry. When Ujjwala and Yukta first participated in the slam poetry competition, the first ever of its kind in Nepal, they had barely known they could come this far. “For someone like me, who has a lot of angry poems, it was also enlightening to realise that slam poetry isn’t just about aggression and anger. It is more like opening up to your vulnerabilities,” says Ujjwala. Now, many of the young audiences express how they can relate to her words and expressions.


The project itself was born out of the idea of making poetry relatable to as many youth in the country as possible through the available, limited human and financial resources and importantly, not just focusing on the capital city. When Centre for Culture and Development (CKU), a self-governing body under Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs reached out to the poetic duo, they brainstormed over a lot of ideas on how they can make spoken word poetry a notion of a safe space for youth, women and/or marginalized.

“The idea of creating a local slam scene in every districts we have conducted these workshops and through this, having a sustainable approach to our efforts, was the basis why we went ahead with this particular project idea,” elaborates Ujjwala. But the team adds that there is no defined structure of the workshops or the program. “We are learning ourselves; we have realised that methods that work in a certain place with a certain group do not necessarily have the same effect in a different set up. So the ideas are constantly evolving,” adds Samip.

However, to have four sets of workshop and to groom the young participants to be able to create a slam scene independent of their instructors does require a set of curriculum. “We have decided to have two handbooks so that anyone can refer to it even after the completion of the workshops,” Yukta points out the presence of loose structure and reference. The team themselves sat down on various workshops to prepare themselves to be able to undertake the job as good instructors. Since the project was initiated in July of 2014, the first six months were spent on this very preparation. They had a number of facilitators advising them with their curriculum as well as the approach including Sarah Kay, an American Spoken word poet.


Now, touring for the last leg of the introductory tour for the project, Ujjwala recollects her happiness when she realised the extent of how poetry struck to people. And seemingly the amount of responses, talents and people has also struck these young instructors of Spoken word poetry. When I ask the poets to recount their favourite memories of the tour so far, all of them seem to point out on something that made them very emotional.

Kshitiz, the documentator, who until this point rarely gave away any of his opinions started sharing one such memory. “At the intensive workshop in Pokhara, there was this tenth grader Yanzi Tamang and in one such sessions when the participants were asked to perform their original work, Yanzi volunteered to come to the stage. From the moment she walked on to the stage with her guitar, I had begun to swell up already and by the end of her performance, I was crying and yet still trying my best to hold the camera still,” he says.

In the footage that entails this memory, it is not just Kshitiz who have been struggling to keep his tears from flowing, Ujjwala is also seen sitting on the other corner of the room, fighting back her tears in vain and quickly wiping every drop that lands on her cheeks.

It is definitely an emotional roller coaster for the young instructors, and it is not just about the poetry making them swell up. There are many times when they are challenged by the differences in views by their participants, their moral responsibility when the students try to follow in their footsteps in exploring the vulnerability but somehow crossing a thin border of vulgarity. It is even an exhausting task to select the 25 participants for the intensive workshops from the whooping 80. The “intensive’ isn’t just directed at the level up for the participants but it is very much relatable to intense work they have to put on as well.

But Ujjwala insists that her role as a poet seems more contented when she morphs as an instructor, “Being a poet and an instructor is the comfortable outcome as a part of Spoken word poetry scene, the uncomfortable is the fame and getting recognized in public,” she says.



She has, however, very little choice. The uncomfortable part that she describes was witnessed abundantly during the public performance at a public hall in Chitwan. The crowd of around 80 were mostly youth, many knew the poets by face, and some even knew their poems at heart. One such big enthusiast of Ujjwala’s work walked into the hall with a wooden vase and pink plastic flowers in it and presented it to her, Ujjwala was slightly taken aback but accepted it with as much grace. Autographs were requested and a lot of photos were taken.

But most importantly, there was a delight amongst the crowd as they enjoyed the poets’ performances. When Samip announced that he will be performing “Chura ko geet” (The songs from bangles), a girl sitting next to me exclaimed with excitement, jumped a little on her seat and whispered, “This is my favourite!” For one hour, the audiences were so keen at listening to these Spoken word poets that there was a significant silence in the room throughout the show except huge applauses at the end of every recital.

Many in that crowd were the people who had filled the registration form for the upcoming workshop and were aspiring to be as good performers as the ones presenting before them. These Spoken Word poets have indeed surpassed the reservation over poetry being “cool” for youths; they say they have surpassed even their own doubts to make a living out of poetry. “To receive my first pay check by working on poetry was the biggest personal milestone I achieved through this project,” Samip sums up the similar sentiments of the whole team.

But the project is slated to complete by September of this year and the team realises that after that, they may have to put poetry aside as part time. But as of now, they have no complaints and no regrets. They say they are not trying to bring out any thing extraordinary out of this project as Samip repeats a valuable advice, “This project will be truly successful if it gets mentioned after a decade by someone that she or he was inspired to hang on to poetry due to the workshops we conducted. That is what we are aiming.” 

Words by Asmita Manandhar.
Follow Asmita on Twitter @asmitamdr
Read more from Asmita here.
Photos from Spoken Word Nepal’s Facebook Group.

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