BEIRUT: The second edition of the Beirut Poetry Slam is set to take place this Saturday, where 10 spoken-word poets will battle it out for the national title.
Staged at Station Beirut, each poet will perform two pieces – in Arabic or English – live for the audience and judges.
“It is the biggest event in the Lebanese poetry calendar and showcases budding creatives, giving them a platform to express themselves through the creation and performance of poetry,” BPS founder Sara Sibai told The Daily Star. “The slam allows poets to push the boundaries of how far they think they can go with their writing and performance skills.”
Founded in 2016 by Sibai and the Raw Voices collective, the platform started when Sibai participated in the Talking Doorsteps project organized by the U.K.’s Roundhouse. While there, Sibai attended a Poetry Slam Final at Roundhouse and was inspired to bring the experience home.
Roundhouse was keen to support the initiative, sponsoring the event and flying in U.K. poets to judge and conduct workshops prior to the slam. This year’s panel includes Sukoon magazine founder Rewa Zeinati, the 2018 Outspoken Prize for Performance Poetry U.K. winner Lisa Luxx and Syrian Rapper Hani al-Sawah, aka Darwish.
“On the night of the slam there are two rounds; each poet performs once in each,” Sibai said. “The judges also perform before and after the break.
“The judges score each performance, evaluating content and delivery. At the end of the event, score sheets are collected and calculated.”
For the past two months, the 10 participants – chosen in March from over 50 applicants – have been attending weekly workshops with Maysan Nasser, last year’s winner, The Poetry Pot founder Majd Shidiac and the judges.
“Participation in the slam is a process, where the contestants work together and alone to develop their poems and their performance,” Sibai said. “That’s why the workshops are so important to us.”
Carima Khairallah, a 23 year-old museum docent by day, BPS poet by night, found the workshops helped push her out of her comfort zone.
One tactic saw workshop leaders present participants with prompts, calling on them to versify specific topics. “I wouldn’t say that there are many subjects that I would normally shy away from altogether, but this did help me dig deeper into problems that I wouldn’t have thought of approaching on my own,” she told The Daily Star. “Having weekly workshops helped me get myself in a consistent writing vibe.”
The two poems Khairallah’s fine-tuning for the slam – titled “Stage Persona” and “Fear of Abandonment” – are quite personal in nature.
“Whenever we’d open up a new subject in a session, it would macerate at the back of my mind until it eventually materialized into a poem,” Khairallah explained. “This is what happened with my ‘Fear of Abandonment’ piece.
“During one of our preslam preparatory workshops, I was given the prompt to write about a fear of mine, and what I’d been thinking about for days just poured out of me onto the page.
“As for ‘Stage Persona,’” she added, “the initial idea occurred to me after a performance at the weekly Sidewalk open mic, when I realized that I was scrounging around the venue hoping to hear appreciative comments about my pieces.”
The slam’s contestants have varying degrees of poetic experience.
While Khairallah has been writing poems for seven years, Noura Kalo only discovered her love of spoken word a year ago.
“I have been writing for so long, ever since I learned how to hold a pencil,” the 20-year-old AUB student said. “However, I only started taking my poetry seriously last year, and it has been a roller coaster ever since.
“I was able to live for 20 years without it, but I don’t know what I would do today if I had it taken away from me. It is how I channel my emotions in a safe and healthy way.
“One of the poems I’ll be performing is about breaking down the patriarchy, my staple angry feminist poem,” she said. “It doesn’t have a title ... I do not typically title my poems. Too much hinges on titles, they intimidate me.”
In May 2019, the BPS winner will have the chance to represent Lebanon at Paris’ Poetry Grand Slam – La Coupe du Monde de Slam.
“The Grand Poetry Slam brings together a huge range of slam styles from across the world,” Sibai explained. “This is an incredibly exciting opportunity, because it means we can send [an] Arab residing in the region to compete in the world cup.
“Poetry slam is an ever-growing stage ... in the MENA region,” she said. “Let’s make our voices heard!”
Beirut Poetry Slam is taking place Sept. 15 at Station Beirut, Jisr al-Wati, 8 p.m.