Written to be performed and often based on social and political themes of the times, slam poetry is on the rise in Cyprus finds a finger snapping ELENI PHILIPPOU
“Let’s go to a poetry night,” a friend suggested and I nodded yes, knowing very little about what I was letting myself in for. It was at a packed café-bar in the UK in the mid-2010s. I discovered poems that did not rhyme, recitations that were dramatised performances and finger snaps instead of claps or sounds of awe. All in the name of poetry.
Fast forward to (almost!) ten years later and now in Cyprus a similar culture of performances and finger snaps can be found on the island too. Poetry nights, open mic evenings and even poetry competitions are growing in Cyprus cultivating an even bigger culture of local poets and poetry lovers.
Local initiatives such as WriteCy, Pe Ta: Write it, Bring it, Say it, the Queer Collective CY, Blend. The space, Atlantis Culture and Ideogramma organise frequent poetry evenings and open mic nights. Cyprus’ cultural scene has gone from hosting one-off events to almost monthly gatherings and annual festivals dedicated to the written word.
Sardam interdisciplinary literature festival celebrated its 10th edition in 2022 and the International Poetry Slam Cyprus will mark six competitions this year as its latest event comes up in mid-March. The local alternative poetry scene may have taken a while to build an audience and encourage more writers to step into the spotlight but its growing number of events is building a vibrant Cypriot community.
There are, of course, differences in the kinds of poetry evenings that are held and one of the newest additions to Cyprus’ art scene is that of slam poetry. Before the first International Poetry Slam Cyprus competition was organised in 2017, online platforms were the best option for followers to get their dose of spoken word inspiration. Now the competition has become an institution that each year welcomes both established poets and newcomers.
Slam poetry is different to the traditional kind, however; it is written to be performed, it has an informal character and loose structure and most importantly it seeks interaction with the audience. A reaction. And if a piece moves the listener, it is customary for audiences to click or snap their fingers in agreement. In the slam poetry world, that is the poet’s way of knowing their work has resonated.
What might at first be a bit confusing, the finger snapping is something to look out for at the International Poetry Slam Cyprus on March 13 and 14 at ARTos House. That and the new poets that will take the stage.
“Slam poetry,” say organisers Ideogramma, “is an emotional explosion dressed in words performed on a stage and this is quite different to the traditional way of presenting, reciting or reading poetry. The first Slam competition was organised by Marc Smith, American poet Slam. Ever since it was first staged, Slam poetry is considered by quite a few, as the biggest and most influential movement of the literary arts of our time. We also believe this to be true, and that is why we love organising a Slam Poetry Competition every year.”
Just like every edition, the competition this March will first welcome Cyprus-based slammers who will battle against each other on day one for the title of the Cyprus National Champion Slammer 2023. On the second evening, the top six Cyprus slammers from the previous night will compete against the invited poets from abroad to win the places of International Slam Champion 2023 and the People’s Favourite. At this year’s event, Ideaogramma founders Lily Michaelides and Nora Hadjisoteriou will also welcome slam poets from Israel, the US, Sweden, Mozambique, Belgium and Denmark.
“Slam Poetry has often been used as a tool for political and social change,” add Nora and Lily, “it also challenges and takes poetry to the extreme in search of new forms of expression.” Indeed, slam poetry is direct and often touches on social movements and issues of the times. Its casual, performance-based tone is easy to follow and so welcomes people from all walks of life, whether involved in the literature world or not.
“Over the years, not only have such events been consistently on the rise, but they are also emerging as more popular, proposing a different approach to poetry, bringing together more and more creators,” add the Ideogramma founders. Since the first International Slam Poetry Cyprus, the event has marked some milestones. 2022 saw a huge number of young slammers and Melissa Zanga, last year’s Cyprus National Champion Slammer, finished third in the European Poetry Slam Championship.
No one knows yet what the 2023 competition will hold. The only certain factor is that two evenings full of established and emerging poets are coming up welcoming poets and finger-snapping audiences. All in the name of a poetry genre that “is meant to make you think,” as Nora and Lily put it.
International Poetry Slam Cyprus 2023
Poetry slam competition. Organised by Ideogramma. March 13-14. ARTos House, Nicosia. 7.30pm. [email protected]. Tel: 99-577006