Magazine 2015
International Peer-Reviewed Journal  
Rupalee Burke  
Changing times are reflected in literature. The genre of poetry in the last few decades has witnessed a  
mediatic hybridity’ with the emergence of poetries in the form of the ‘Performance Poetry Movement’,  
also termed as ‘Spoken Word Poetry’ in reaction to the rapid transformation that the material world is  
undergoing amidst forces of globalisation and the literary world in the face of print capitalism. When one  
sets out to explore the field one realises that there are areas of overlap in the many variants of Performance  
Poetry such as poetry in performance and poetry readings which includes extempore and written poetry.  
The present paper is an attempt to situate within this arena the poetry of two poets of Gujarat who write  
for a cause and written to be heard. Their poetry constitutes a meta-hybridity since their poetry has the  
attributes of Spoken Word Poetry without being termed or categorised so.  
Key Words : Hybridity, Performance Poetry, Spoken Word Poetry.  
Literature has evolved from oral traditions. Poetry was the commonest creative expression in oral  
traditions round the world. Having undertaken a long and winding path and having negotiated the  
milestone of appearing in print, poetry today is once again arching back to orality and the spoken  
word as the emergence of Performance Poetry suggests. It is therefore that Performance Poetry is  
seen in binary opposition to print poetry or ‘page poetry’. Extempore/Written poetry in performance  
and vibrant readings of written/published poetry belong to the generic group of Performance Poetry.  
Studies of the form are as fluid and multiple as the form itself. The areas of overlap among the many  
variants make it difficult to ascribe them to watertight compartments like is possible with conventional  
poetry. The matter is further compounded when Glen North defines Spoken Word Poetry as ‘poetry  
that is written on a page but performed for an audience. Because it is performed, this poetry tends to  
demonstrate a heavy use of rhythm, improvisation, free association, rhymes, rich poetic phrases,  
word play and slang. It is more aggressive and “in your face” than more traditional forms of poetry.”  
North, 1) Additionally, Novak makes space for literary poets who are purely page based and just  
come out and read – traditional readings basically and endorses “poetry which has been composed  
prior to its performance, whose text is relatively stable and which usually has a parallel in writing”  
Novak, 36) She goes on to elaborate on what she terms ‘Live Poetry’, “Live Poetry thus comprises  
presentations of ‘performance poetry’ as well as the more traditional ‘poetry readings’. It may be  
encountered in a wide variety of settings: poetry slams, large public demonstrations such as anti-war  
gatherings, formal readings (for instance at universities), literature festivals and small open mics, to  
name a few.” (Novak, 62)  
The general notion in present times is that written poetry is primarily meant to be ‘highbrow, cerebral  
and meant to be read in the mind. In contrast Spoken Word Poetry is direct, straightforward and  
meant to be heard. First the origination of scripts and the print technology that followed brought in  
drastic changes in the conception and reception of literature. The history of the hegemony of the  
written word begins from there. Thereafter the written tradition came to be greatly privileged over the  
oral tradition. Literatures that found their way in print came to assume higher status. The bias is  
embodied in the ‘unhealthy fixation, within complex civilized communities, on the written word considered  
according to an evolutionist stance as a progressive medium implying ‘civilized’, ‘cultured’, ‘refined’,  
etc. and is responsible in the general attitude towards literature characterised by orality. The tug-of-  
war between phonocentricism (Saussure) and logocentricism (Derrida) has since then continued. It is  
therefore that mainstream poets are wary of and undermine the worth of poetry written/performed in  
this vein. Writers, scholars and critics too are divided in opinion as far as the evaluation of Performance  
Poetry. Nevertheless, the form which constitutes ‘a distinct performance aesthetic’ has led to a  
conspicuous new interest in orality in the literary world’. It also makes for an oral realisation of poetry  
as opposed to the silent reading of the written text of a poem.  
Cornelia Grabner’s highly researched article dwells at length on the history and various dimensions of  
Performance Poetry in English. This roots of this hybrid form of poetry can be traced back to the  
950s and was manifest in the Beat Poets as ‘a form of rebellion and protest’ Grabner notes, “At the  
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same time other poets, such as Langston Hughes, developed the practice as cultural expression.  
Because it worked well in both contexts, it was quickly adopted by artists committed to particular  
social and political movements . . . They took a step beyond complaint, addressing their audiences as  
a community with whom they shared experiences, values and convictions.” (Grabner, 79) Grabner  
informs, “Where white performance poets responded to the revival of orality, they often did so from an  
equally politically committed position. Therefore . . . the performance of poetry as we know it today is  
historically bound up with the consciousness of the poet’s position within his social and political  
surroundings, and with political demands that are the results of her/his position or self-positioning.”  
Grabner, 79) Another outstanding feature of Spoken Word Poetry is that it written for a cause, to make  
a valuable intervention for mobilisation of socio-politico-cultural awareness.  
Grabner throws light on the performance of poetry in her doctoral thesis (2007) which she says is “an  
area of poetry and cultural studies that remains largely unexplored”.  
So far, the performance of poetry has received little attention. Usually it is conflated with the poetry  
reading and is treated as an addition to the written poem as if it were an extra treat for the reader  
who gets to see and hear the poet in person ... the poetry performance and the poetry reading are  
distinctly different manifestations of poetry. First of all, the poetry reading is just that: a reading  
aloud of poetry that is meant to be read from the page. This means that the poetry reading mobilizes  
only one element of signification additional to the word itself, the poet’s voice. The poetry performance,  
on the other hand, mobilizes the voice not as reading voice but as speaking voice also, and in  
contradistinction to the poetry reading, the performance usually puts the word in contact with other  
elements of signification such as music, other sounds, visual elements and theatrical devices.  
Furthermore, it takes many of its devices such as accents, the use of vernaculars, rhythms or music  
from the cultural sphere that surrounds it. Hence the performance of poetry is hardly ever self-  
contained. It spills over into its surroundings.” (Grabner, 3)  
In a similar vein Novak emphasises the ‘aesthetic and social potential of poetry in its spoken form’,  
Although poetry has long been pronounced a dying literary genre in terms of the publishing market,  
it is experiencing a renaissance through the spoken word.” (Novak, 11)  
The “establishment poets” declared through their upturned noses that performance poetry cheapened  
poetry; the true poetry lets the words, however flat and mumbled off the page, do all the work. But as  
time has shown, performance actually strengthens poetry’s appeal and impact.” (Smith, 10)  
Marginalisation notwithstanding Performance Poetry is a newly emerging artistic discourse which offers  
resistance to all attempts to write it off as mundane and unfit for academic consideration.  
Performance poetry has over the years branched out further and thrives in its Open Mic and Slam  
Contest avatars today. Julie Marie Schmid in her analyses of Slam poets David Hernandez’s and  
Patricia Smith’s performances says, “It is clear, I believe, that these two poets’ performances open up  
dialogue and debate on issues such as urban poverty, gang violence, and racism.” (Schmid, 5) Although  
Schmid draws a line between conventional poetry reading and poetry performances, she says, “My  
decision to refer to the four poets included in this study as ‘performance poets’ is in some ways  
problematic, as none of them write only for performance (Holman, Hernandez, and Patricia Smith  
publish as prolifically as any “conventional” poet”. (Schmid, 7) Goggins presents an interesting view,  
Performance poetry, like many forms of language, began as a tool of communication for poets to  
sound their opinions. According to James Fenton, a professor of poetry at Oxford University, poetry  
begins in those situations when the voice has to be raised” (7). All performance poetry, then, naturally  
becomes revolutionary, raising its voice from the people, for the people. Performance poetry becomes  
words with “special emphasis,’ using “heightened speech” to rhyme, to punctuate, to slant, to sing,  
and to break the rules society has placed on language (7) (Goggins, 19) Poets of Performance Poetry  
says Goggins are “reporters within the art and performance worlds, educating people – in everyday  
language – about the happenings taking place next door, around the corner, down the street, and  
beyond.” (Goggins, 35) The two poets of Gujarat who are discussed later in this paper occupy the in-  
between space in the above context with a difference of course, since neither of them reach out to  
audiences via the live show, the CD, blog, website, etc. means that performance poets normally use.  
Given below are some definitions of Spoken Word Poetry that foreground the multiplicity of  
interpretations of the form:  
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Performance of poetry means reading or declaiming poetry in a way that acknowledges the presence  
of an audience. This can be anything from a bit of eye-contact to fully blown histrionics.  
Performance poetry uses the stage as the page, transforming poetry readings into theatrical events.  
While the recent resurgence of performance poets is seen as a reaction against mainstream, print-  
based poetry, the style harkens back to the classic role of the poet, who recited notable happenings,  
emotions, and perceptions. (  
A form of poetry intended to be performed as a dramatic monologue or exchange and frequently  
involving extemporization. (  
Poetry written for the public, rather than private use. (  
Michael Rosen: Performance poetry is not one genre. Some chant, sing and dance. Some stand  
rooted to the spot and stare. Some chat their way in and out of their poems like stand-ups. Some  
confess, some rage. Some play with words, some talk plain. The point is, it’s live and in the moment  
. . (the  
Cornelia Grabner: Furthermore, the mobilization of sonic, visual and theatrical devices allowed poets  
to emphasize speech rhythm, vernaculars, and the cultural connotations of music.  
On the basis of the foregoing one may draw up a list of the following characteristics that define Spoken  
Word Poetry:  
Spoken Word Poetry, couched in the oral tradition employs everyday language, and often  
incorporates sonic, visual, theatrical and social devices. Sonic devices range from histrionics of  
voice to various forms of community music. Dress, hair, posture, gestures, facial expressions,  
movements work as corporal devices.  
The poet communicates his/her social and cultural role in society through the speaking voice in  
his/her poetry. Rhetorical devices such as pitch, volume and tone of voice, pronunciation, pacing,  
and pauses also play an important part.  
Performance can also be an enactment of a previously written text.  
The poet occupies the same plane and establishes a direct connection with the audience and  
seeks solidarity.  
The poetry rooted in socio-politico-cultural contexts is authentic and topical.  
Spoken Word Poetry is a binary of page poetry and more accessible in comparison.  
The poetry is public poetry.  
Performance poetry is community oriented.  
Performance poetry is live, vibrant and refreshing.  
The quote below comes to the rescue of Performance Poetry through its acerbic critique of flat oral  
delivery by conventional poets who turn their noses at the mention of Performance Poetry. Alternatively,  
it offers suggestions to turn a drab poetry reading into a forceful performance:  
Most of us have suffered through poetry readings during which the poets were about as animated as  
roadkill. No facial expression. No gesture. No intonation. No sign of life whatsoever. Even the poet’s  
skin seemed ashy, as if he had just stepped off the set of Night of the Living Dead. A zombie who  
threatened to kill us all – not by eating our flesh but by droning on and on in a deadening monotone  
until he had sucked bones dry all our will to listen and to experience the poetry he was lowering into  
a premature grave.  
Please don’t be one of these soul-sucking zombie poets. Reach deep inside, pull out your pulsating  
heart, and fling it on to the stage. Make the audience listen. Grab it by the throat . . . figuratively  
speaking, of course. Use your voice, your eyes, your body, your heart, your soul, and your mind to  
fire to life the passion, sense, and subtleties of the poetic words you toiled over past midnight,  
affixing them to the page. Make faces, stomp, gesture, whisper, yell! Be the fool, the lover, the king,  
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or the kangaroo your poems demand you to be. Do whatever it takes to capture the crowd’s  
attention, keep it entertained, and communicate your poetry through professional, impeccable  
performance. (Smith, xv)  
The crisscrossings inherent in the field of Spoken Word Poetry makes it increasingly difficult to arrive  
at a neat set of defining qualities whereby the works of the poets I wish to discuss can be situated.  
However, the poetry of the two poets discussed below fall in the category of what Novak calls ‘Live  
Poetry’ with characteristics of what others have variously labelled as outlined earlier in the paper.  
Given the focus of this paper the term ‘Spoken Word Poetry’ is used to refer to poetry of commitment  
which primarily depends on the import of the written word via media the voice. Saroop Dhruv and  
Kanji Patel are two activist poets of Gujarat who have, over a period of more than three decades, made  
use of their poetic voice to give voice to socio-politico-cultural issues that concern the communities  
they work with and to foreground their relevance to larger society.  
Saroop Dhruv’s activism extends to marginalised sections of society such as dalits, muslims, labourers,  
slum dwellers, urban displaced, etc. while Kanji Patel is an activist for adivasi and nomadic community  
rights. Their poetry therefore revolves round issues they are connected with. They instinctively respond  
to events around them and record it in their poetry. The real purport of their poetry is to reach out to  
readers/audiences in a bid to mobilize socio-politico-cultural awareness among members of civic  
society who may/may not be aware of these issues for both, poetry is intimately and inextricably  
connected with lived reality. One thinks of Benjamin Zephaniah and Kathy Kijiner as belonging to the  
same orbit. Given my own orientation I think of both these poets as very prominent poets of Gujarat as  
their poetic oeuvre is devoted to the service of an alternative historiography of communities which  
rarely get the historical attention they deserve. Their poetry documents events, incidents, phenomena  
which easily slips into oblivion in public memory. Often written for specific occasions and recited and/  
or published in little magazines and journals before being compiled in a collection, these two poets  
write’, and ‘perform in reading’ their commitment and cultural activism. Both make ample use of  
regional myths, oral tradition/folk literature, regional songs, regional varieties of Gujarati, conversational  
tone, alliteration, onomatopoeia, idioms, colloquial and extremely powerful language. The very nature  
of their poetry, from the point of view of theme, volatile expression in print hints that it is not page  
poetry as we know it. Kanji Patel’s distinctive style of not using punctuation marks poses a problem to  
the reader who as listener gets it right when the poems are read out with strategic pauses and theatricality  
of voice by the poet. The reader has no difficulty once she grasps the unique way in which the poems  
are to be read to get meaning out of it.  
Unfortunate though, it is natural that the poetry of both these poets has not gone down well with the  
literati and critics belonging to the mainstream and they are therefore, viewed as unpoetic and unliterary.  
The poems of both the poets are ‘Janvadi’ (of the people, for the people). Saroop Dhruv has even  
answered such charges levelled against her by mainstream rightist writers during the years 1983 to  
990 in one of her poems ‘Avnari pedhi ne albel urfe mujrim hazir’. She says “The more the cultural  
crises proliferates in society the conflict with me is intensified. What to write? For whom to write? How  
to write?” (Dhruv, (1995) 107) she has given voice to this dilemma in a trilogy of poems. She co-  
founded a movement ‘Apnu Sahitya’ (Our Literature) in 1986 to ‘depict the present in literature’.  
Saroop Dhruv’s second collection of poems Salagti Havao ‘Burning Winds’ is dedicated to the exploited  
and oppressed masses as well as activists and artists of India, especially comrade Gadar and Comrade  
Ravi Sinha. This collection contains poems, each composed for specific occasions ranging from anti-  
reservation and communal riots in Gujarat, co-opting of Dalit writers in the mainstream, rise of Hindutva  
forces in Gujarat, political censorship, the Golana massacre of Dalits, the Bhopal gas tragedy, the  
amendment of the Child Labour Act, the calamitous sea ingress in Bhal region of Gujarat, water scarcity  
ridden region of Dholka, examining 40 years of Independence, tribute to slain activist Safdar Hashmi,  
famine in Amreli, response to the fatwa against Taslima Nasrin, the demolition of Babri Masjid, domestic  
violence against Manjula of Idar whose nose was cut off by her in-laws, eradication of malaria. Her  
poem ‘Roko Roko’(Stop, Stop) written for the Narmada Dam displaced was sung all throughout the  
campaign by the affected and the activists working for them. Many of her poems have been composed  
as title songs of human rights television programmes, workshops for awareness of caste, class and  
gender, social reform meetings, forums, protest campaigns, demonstrations, street and other plays  
and many more.  
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Saroop Dhruv’s second collection Hastakshep (Interference) is dedicated to Late Shri Girish Patel, a  
human rights activist, while the epigraph to the collection is a stanza on the demolition of the tomb of  
Vali Gujarati in the 2002 riots of Gujarat. She says in the Introduction,  
In seven years from the publication of my first collection you and I have witness, experienced and  
pondered over many events in Gujarat, the country and the world. The poems in this collection are  
an attempt to reach out to you through words.” (Dhruv (2003), 1)  
Kanji Patel’s first collection Janpad (Verse of/for the folks) is a vivid document of life lived by the rural  
folk. Minute details of their way of life of farmers and labourers, significance of their rituals, agricultural  
methods, life of nomads, role of natural landscape in the joys and sorrows of the folk, shamanistic  
practices, the importance of the various seasons and natural elements, life of kharwas (fisherfolk),  
environmental denudation, etc. his second collection Dungardev is steeped in the oral tradition and  
myths of adivasis. There are poems based on the creation myth, the Mela as a metaphor of human life  
signifying celebration of life, dirges, human evolution, shaman’s spells, hardships faced by adivasis,  
religious ceremonies of adivasis, hunger, frugality of life of adivasis, tales from oral traditions of adivasis,  
songs of nomadic communities, hegemony of script over orality, etc. His third collection Dharti na  
Vachan (Earth-speak) is dedicated to the primal sound. It contains poems on subjects such as hegemony  
of languages, discrimination against adivasis, deities, mysticism, food, music, festivals, creative  
expression of adivasis and rural folks, adivasis affected by environmental degradation, effects of  
urbanisation on adivasis, death of Andamanese language ‘Bo’, political oppression of adivasis, natural  
habitat of adivasis affected by development, the revolt led by Birsa Munda, land rights of adivasis,  
forced silence of adivasis, political censorship on freedom of speech, material deprivation of adivasis,  
loss of idyllic way of life, etc.  
Place Benjamin Zephaniah’s poem ‘Refugees’ and Saroop Dhruv’s poem ‘Roko, Roko’ or Zephaniah’s  
We are the Cherokee’ and Kanji Patel’s ‘Tasu Tasu Karta’ (Inch by Inch) side by side. Place Kathy  
Kijiner’s ‘A Bad Sign’ alongside Saroop Dhruv’s ‘Havey Nathshu Dariyo Hathe’ (We shall harness the  
sea) and Kanji Patel’s ‘Rakh Thai Gayu’ (Turned to Ashes) and the point is made, the dilemma resolved.  
As Kathy Kijiner says, “To be real though, there doesn’t have to be a line between the two forms. I think  
a good poet is able to cross the barriers of both forms – spoken and page. I mean why limit one’s art  
work to just one form? My recent goal as a poet is to push the boundaries of what I’m comfortable  
with, and to explore and push myself as much as I can to write and tell the story however it needs to be  
told. In the end, my big question when writing isn’t always “Should this piece be a page poem or a  
performance poem?” most of the time, my only question is, “How should this story be told?”  
Goggins, Bessie Lee Dietrich, Rhetorical Relationships in Performance Poetry. M.A. (English) thesis submitted  
to Graduate School of Western Carolina University. 2009.(  
Grabner, Cornelia, Is Performance Poetry Dead?’ (  
72Grabner.pdf) Web.  
Off the Page and Off the Stage: The Performance of Poetry and its Public Function (  
1245/1.270110) PhD Thesis, 2007. Web.  
Kijiner, Kathy (  
North, Geln, What Is Spoken Word Poetry? 2008. ( Web.  
Novak, Julia, Live Poetry: An Integrated Approach to Poetry in Performance. Amsterdam-New York, Rodopi  
B.V. 2011. Print.  
Schmid, Julie Marie, Performance, Poetics, and Place: Public Poetry as Community Art. Abstract of doctoral  
viewcontent.cgi?article+1377&content=etd) Web.  
Smith, Marc Kelly and Joe Kraynak, Take the Mic:The Art of Performance Poetry, Slam and the Spoken  
Word. Illinois: Sourcebooks MediaFusion, 2009. Print.  
Dr. Rupalee Burke Associate Professor, Dept. of English, SJVM, Ahmedabad.