Taking Spoken Word Poetry to Dang

Some glimpses from the workshop

Photo Credit: Bittu Maharjan

Written by Larisa Shrestha, Spoken Word Poet and Instructor 

During the first week of April, some instructors from Word Warriors traveled to Lamahi in Dang-Deukhuri to facilitate a spoken word poetry workshop for teachers and high school students, as a part of a week-long community program which was centered at the Shree Baal Janata Higher Secondary School. The program was organized by the US Embassy’s Book Bus in collaboration with Srijanalaya and Shikshya Foundation’s ‘Art Works! Sangai Khelaun’. The program engaged students and teachers from the region through a variety of art workshops, encouraging arts education and creative pedagogy in classrooms. In addition to the poetry workshop, there was a workshop on theatre facilitated by Actor’s Studio, a creative movement workshop and a visual arts workshop by Srijanalaya and a mural making workshop as a part of Rainbow City: Community Murals program.  Earlier, we’d also showcased ‘Budhani’, a play based on a Tharu folk story, performed by Actor’s Studio. And, artist Bandana Tulachan was simultaneously creating a mural on one of the walls of Shree Baal Janata HSS.

The spoken word poetry workshop was organized over a period of four days from April 1 to April 4, where Yukta Bajracharya, Nisha Karki and I shared the basics of writing and performing poetry with the participants of the workshop. The workshop engaged nine high school students and seven teachers from different schools in Lamahi.

On the first two days of the workshop, we focused on the writing process. Through different games and writing prompts, the participants were introduced to the three basic steps of writing: pre-writing, which includes brainstorming and making lists; writing, which includes the jotting down of the idea we collected while pre-writing; and editing, the final step of adding the finishing touches to the piece.

On the first day, we created a list of our ideas in activities such as “Three Things I Know to be True,” where we made a list of three things that were true for us. In another writing activity, we also created various lists of five things that we liked to eat, that made us happy, that we had lost, that we had found, and places we wanted to visit. During the writing, we not only made a vapid list of things but also spiced it up with the stories and events behind the pointers that made their way to our lists. Madhu Giri, a Nepali teacher at Bal Janata Higher Secondary School, while listing things she has lost, told the class how she lost a pair of green slippers at a crowded temple. This writing activity made it clear to us how different our lives and personalities are, but at our core, a number of commonalities bind us all together. Almost all teachers, for instance, wrote in their lists about the struggles and triumphs of their jobs, making us nod and groan in unison. Later, we also discussed how to use our sense organs to gather details from our surroundings to make our poems as specific as possible while steering away from being too abstract. Kalpana Gautam, on a detail that constitutes her gustatory delight, wrote: “The chatpate she buys from Kunnu Bhai at Ghorahi.”

During the second day of the workshop, after discussions on the poem Where I Come From by Elizabeth Brewster, we wrote poems about the places that we felt like we belonged to. A 12th grade Education student, Laxmi Tharu, extolled the nearby Tikapur Park as her favorite place to be in. The second day of the workshop was also the first time we sat down to write our first metaphors and similes.

One of the major challenges that I have faced in such workshops is older people’s unwillingness of accepting the unrestricted art form that spoken word is as a form of poetry. People usually compare spoken word’s free, unstructured, narrative storytelling with the meter, rhythm, and strict structure of the conventional poems that we read in our Nepali books and are reluctant to view spoken word as a form of poetry. But I was surprised and equally delighted to find these teacher’s enthusiasm to learn about and experiment with spoken word poetry in the classroom as we worked our way through various writing prompts and activities.

On the third day, we wrote personification poems in which a beloved object in our room wrote a letter to us. Bal Govinda Chaudhary, a teacher who also works many hours on his computer every day as a part of his job, wrote a letter from the perspective of his tired computer relieved to have a day off from relentless work. On this day, we also discussed the basic performance elements of spoken word poetry. We watched a number of spoken word poetry videos and discussed various tips on making a strong stage presence.

During this workshop, we struggled to get some of the high school students in our class to open up and share their ideas. The presence of some of their teachers in the classroom and the comfort and confidence with which they participated in classroom discussions might have intimidated them, subduing their voices. However, with some additional effort, more individualized attention, and some fun conversations, it was so heartwarming to see them slowly open up in the course of the workshop. One of the students Prama Chaudhary even mustered up enough courage to share the poem she wrote during the workshop on the final day in front of the audience.

On the final day, participants from Actor’s Studio’s and Srijanalaya’s workshops also staged a play and performed a dance they had prepared during the past three days of the workshop as a part of the final exhibition day. The series of workshops ended with the official unveiling of the mural, B for Bird inspired by the Rainbow City: Community Murals workshop at Lamatar, at Shree Bal Janata HSS by the principal amid happy and excited faces.

On the conclusion day, participants of our workshop Kalpana Gautam, Bal Govinda Chaudhary, Prama Chaudhary and Guru Prasad Kumal shared the poems they had written in the past three days of the workshop.

Click here to read the some of the poems written during the workshop.

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