At 10pm last night I was beginning to worry about whether or not I would be able to make it to the reading scheduled for this morning. I was feeling unwell, on top of which it looked like there would be only a couple of readers, and with a handful more attending. I opened up a search engine to look for pieces that fit the theme, to be distributed to random members of the audience to read in the event that there wasn’t enough original work. Immediately, I felt frustrated — spoken word organizer? Try schoolteacher. We’ve had a dozen readings so far and if I’m still going to have to beg/bully people into reading, I would rather do it in a workshop setting than at an open mic. I messaged my co-organiser to ask if they could carry on with the reading if I couldn’t make it.
By 2am, I knew for sure I could not make it. When I messaged Chandrachoodan again, he replied that he was still stuck with office work at that time. The reading had to be off.
So we got in touch with people who had rsvp-ed and let them know.
It seems that a few people messaged Chandrachoodan in the morning to ask about the reading, messages he didn’t see till late afternoon.
All this brings up something very important. These are very small events. There is no reader/audience divide because nearly everyone who comes winds up reading. They are not events to go to if one is simply interested in being entertained — we have not come to a large enough rate of attendance for that to happen. These events happen only if there is interest and support in them. Interest and support means a variety of things: it begins with rsvp-ing. This is to let the organisers know that there are sufficient numbers to hold the event. It is also so that in case of cancellation (this is the first time this has happened) or change of plans, there’s a list of people who should be notified.
This is a fledgling scene and it will fail without support. Every open mic is a struggle (at least, for me. You can ask around about the forehead vein I sported all through Madras Week). Yet, they are fun and rewarding — they are worth having.
Let’s say that all the people who wanted to come had rsvped. It would mean there would have been that many people to disappoint. Grief arrests you in moments you don’t expect it to; if I had known so many people cared about the open mic, I would have pulled myself together and not given in to it. But you can’t disappoint people if you aren’t aware that they have expectations.
I apologise for the fact that the reading did not go on as scheduled. I would like to promise that there will be many more. That, however, will depend on you.
When: Sunday December 7th, 8.30am
Where: Meeting point at Mylapore train station.
Who: You and your poems/short prose on the theme below.
What: It’s difficult to organise open mics in a city that doesn’t have venues very kind toward poetry, a point I have beaten to death often in this blog. Which is why we’ve done the outdoors thing most of the time in the past. This is a late announcement, because Chandrachoodan and I were looking at certain other venues, but with the current security issues, those were not viable choices.
You may have heard that the Chennai airport is on high alert, along with Bangalore’s and Delhi’s, for a terrorist attack. We are, of course, deeply concerned about this turn of events. We are not inspired by it, but in solidarity with all efforts taken by individuals, organizations and the government to keep ordinary citizens safe, we think it would be to good to have a reading on the theme of… .Public Transportation. Interpret as you will. :)
Seeing as Chandroo doesn’t have a private jet yet (not that I would want to fly in it anyway) we’ll be open mic-ing on a moving train.
Those who went to the first Photowalk will recall that on Sundays at this time, the train in this part of town is completely deserted. Or at least, very quiet. So don’t be shy.
We’ll meet at the station, start the reading there, and then board. Will it work? Hopefully. Who can make it work? You.
Please RSVP to sharanya dot manivannan at gmail dot com or to chandrachoodan at gmail dot com.
In the late 90’s, the singer Jewel told a reporter that singing in a studio is “like faking an orgasm”. The quote came to mind a couple of months ago during what had been presented to me as a collaborative meeting with a theatre practitioner, who chose to take the opportunity to rip to shreds the work I do as a spoken word artist and organiser.
Let me explain. Spoken word is a performance genre that focuses predominantly but not exclusively on poetry. A related, sometimes interchangeable, term is “live literature”. Performers either read off the page, with a focus on strong vocal delivery, or recite from memory.
Why “spoken word” and not simply “readings”? Because spoken word is a legitimate genre of performance – not everybody is able to read, even their own work, with panache. Those gifted in their delivery, however, are able to have careers with or without the presence of a publishing history. Whereas poetry publishing is a difficult and drawn-out process, performance allows immediate, often intimate, access to an audience. Several professionals I know establish their names through tours, CDs and chapbooks (often self-published). A book, for some, is only icing on the cake.
I knew for a fact that the theatre practitioner I was speaking to had tried to bring poetry to the stage in the past, and planned to in future – only, I couldn’t remember what poetry that had been. I remembered the stage sets, spotlights and the general dramatics of proceedings. But I could not remember a single poem. The poetry itself had been drowned out by the production.
He claimed that his events had crowds of 200, to the dozen average mine have seen in the past six months. Strangely, these crowds seem to have evaporated. Forget my little efforts – where were they during the fortnight-long poetry festival last year that saw attendances of five and six? An audience whose imagination was genuinely captured would continue to be curious and supportive.
Most events I organise follow an open mic format, which allows anybody to read. I like its democratic nature, its value in uncovering hidden talents who may not otherwise have been given the chance to share their writing or their flair for delivery, and its spontaneity. In a city like Chennai, where curiously enough a successful English-centric poetry movement has never taken off, it is also a necessary format: very few people have the confidence or experience to be crowd-drawing professionals.
The bad taste left in my mouth from my exchange with the theatre practitioner was because of his remark that in eschewing rehearsals and encouraging spontaneity, I “disrespect the audience”. His way of doing it would be to select pieces, have selected people rehearse them, and then put on a show.
I’ve been on stage since I was four years old, first as a dancer, then an actor, and finally in the skin I wear the closest: as poet-performer. I’m a professional, just as the theatre practitioner is. Unlike him, however, I am committed to building community. My open mics are intended to seduce potential performers first, and then the audience. I do not believe in the elitism of the stage.
There is one more thing. Remember what Jewel said? I don’t put the Word in the hands and mouths of novices because I don’t see it as sacred. Rather, I do so because I, unequivocally, do. I love to watch it come alive, surprised into bloom, in the unlikeliest people as they tap into that immense power – what in flamenco is known as the duende. And no amount of theory or rehearsal can help you fake that convincingly.
An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express. “The Venus Flytrap” is my weekly column in the Zeitgeist supplement. Previous columns can be found here.
P.S. PLEASE SEE THE FOLLOWING POST ON TEMPORARY COMMENTING SHUTDOWN
No connection between the two (although I would be thrilled to bits if I could be the Mae West of Madras). It’s just that it was Mae West’s birthday today, and you should check out this interview of her. She was 83 at the time it was filmed (about four years before she died)! I love Mae West for many many things, and outliving the bad-girl-tragic-short-life archetype is one of them.
Speaking of bad girl writers, Thursday Love is pretty good. You throw a stone in the blogosphere, you inevitably hit a Carrie Sadshaw. But she’s different — not only does she actually write well and entertainingly, but I know her in real life and she’s one of the rare few who actually walk the walk more than they talk the talk.
And lastly and mostest mostest importantly, Madras Week starts tomorrow. TOMORROW!!! Hope to see some of you delurking. Remember that the open mics are open to all AND I am quite happy to read or find someone else to read any theme-appropriate pieces you email in to me, if you can’t make it.
We put up the exhibit today, and as I type this, some folks are still at Vanilla Place getting things ready. A few of my photos are also on sale, and if anyone actually buys them, please let me know. I’d like to know who the person behind such poor taste is. :)
Celebrate Madras/Chennai city’s 369th birthday with seven evenings of photography, folksongs and poetry! Seven nights of still life, song and sinful spoken word, saluting our city by the sea.
August 18 2008 – August 24 2008
MADRAS WEEK EVENTS AT VANILLA PLACE, MYLAPORE
CURATED BY CHANDRACHOODAN GOPALAKRISHNAN
AND SHARANYA MANIVANNAN,
WITH THE PARTICIPATION OF THE WORLD STORYTELLING INSTITUTE.
PHOTO EXHIBITION AND SALE
Opening night: August 18 2008
From August 18 to August 24 , organised by Chandrachoodan Gopalakrishnan and The Chennai Photowalk. Photos are of Chennai, as seen through the eyes of the photographers who participated in the first nine photowalks. All photos exhibited are available for purchase.
The Chennai Photowalk is a movement of the residents of Chennai to preserve the city’s heritage in the form of photos. Young and old, professional and the hobbyist, photographers of all description meet, walk and capture a view of the city mostly overlooked.
“THE SEA STORY”: A SPECIAL PERFORMANCE ON OPENING NIGHT
A special storytelling drama with folksongs by the Nochikuppam seafishing community, facilitated by the World Storytelling Institute and hosted by Eric Miller.
“The Sea Story” summary: One evening, a mother sings a lullaby to a child (Thalattu pattu). That night, some men go in a kattumaram to fish in the sea (Rowing pattu).
One man is lost in a storm, and some women on shore lament for the lost man (Oppari pattu). Finally, the lost man re-appears – he was rescued by a sea-turtle! – and the community members are filled with joy (Celebration pattu).
SPOKEN WORD READINGS AND OPEN MICS
From August 18 to August 24 at 8pm every night, hosted by Sharanya Manivannan.
August 18 – “Cities+Pride” (Opening Night)
August 19 – “Cities+Envy”
August 20 – “Cities+Wrath”
August 21 – “Cities+Sloth”
August 22 – “Cities+Greed”
August 23 – “Cities+Gluttony”
August 24 – “Cities+Lust”
Local poets both famous and soon-to-be-famous explore the idea of cities as hubs of sins from different angles. Debauchery or divine redemption? A bit of both is promised each night, along with poetry and prose both original and admired. Performers include Kuttirevathi, Vivek Narayanan, Deesh Mariwala and Sharanya Manivannan.
Open mic readings are open to all. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the organisers
Chandrachoodan Gopalakrishnan is a writer (of prose, poetry and carefully worded commercial fiction) and a photographer (of people, places and the occasional abstract) from Chennai. His great-grandfather was an epigraphist, translator and the first Tamil novelist. These genes, always unpredictable, waited three generations to surface in Chandrachoodan, causing him to take a great interest in his city and its heritage. Which in turn took form as a monthly photowalk.
As a spoken word artist, Sharanya Manivannan has performed to critical and popular acclaim at dozens of venues, including an abandoned pier, a cemetery and the 11th century Borobudur Temple, as well as more conventional locations. Her book of poems, Witchcraft, will be published this year, and carries a foreword from celebrated Sri Lankan-American poet Indran Amirthanayagam that describes it as “bloody, sexy, beguiling as in a dance with veils… a glorious, chilling and sensual debut”. Sharanya is committed to the creation of a spoken word scene in Chennai, and regularly co-organises and hosts events that encourage the open mic format, in which anyone willing to share their work is welcome.
The World Storytelling Institute was founded by Eric Miller and Jeeva Raghunath in Chennai, in December 2007. Mr. Eric is the director of the WSI; Ms. Jeeva is the director of its section on storytelling for/by/with children. The WSI’s mission is to facilitate training in, performance of, and discussion about, forms of storytelling. In Tamil Nadu, three traditional styles of storytelling are 1) Kathaiyum Pattum (Story and Song); 2) Villupattu (Bow Song); and 3) Katha Kalak Chebam, also known as Harikatha (God Story). In cultures around the world, there are similar styles. We seek to help these styles be meaningful and useful in the modern world. Eric is Assistant Professor of Story and Storytelling at the Image College of Art, Animation, and Technology (Chennai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad), which trains students in the design of 3D Animation, Cinema Visual Effects, and Computer-video-Internet games. He is near completion of a PhD in Folklore at the University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia): his dissertation concerns the use of videoconferencing for educational and performance applications. Originally from New York City, Eric has settled in Chennai. He is married to Chennai native Magdalene Jeyarathnam, the founder-director of Chennai’s Center for Counseling, and they have a daughter.
Vanilla Place, No. 8/57, 1st Street Luz Avenue, near Nageswara Park, Mylapore.
All events are free and open to the public.
For further details, please contact Chandrachoodan Gopalakrishnan – 9884467463
We spent a beautiful late morning yesterday at the most gorgeous cemetery I have ever been in (prettier than any park in this city, I think). The Madras War Memorial is a small, impeccably maintained place, holding the remains and/or remembrances of Commonwealth citizens who died here during the first and second world wars.
The raven that showed up as Anand read from Edgar Allen Poe, the monarch butterfly that did the same when I read a persona poem as Frida Kahlo speaking to me, and the Cohen tombstone near where we were (Deesh read from Leonard C)… Someone told me recently that the signs are everywhere, even when one doesn’t look for them. But I love metaphor, and mythology. I’ll connect the dots.
On the phone the night before, working out lunch plans: “We’ll decide at the graveyard! *cackle*”. How cool to be able to say things like that and mean them. :)
Left to right — Anand, Anita, Harish, Deesh, Chandrachoodan, Arun, Raji, Anita’s daughter (sorry!), Sharanya. Photo by Dilip Muralidharan (link goes to clearer version of pic).