Brunch

Exploring slam poetry, the written word, and the power of performance 

Léa Benabdelghaffar

Creativity is not limited simply to art and music. It also extends to the written word. The pen does indeed possess the power to be mightier than the sword, and it is the dream of writers everywhere, no matter their medium, that their words will be picked up, read, and appreciated by the world. Creative writing is not limited to novels and storytelling; it also extends to poetry, which is essentially a more artistic and vivid form of storytelling than writing, with poets selecting their structure, rhyme scheme, pattern, and words with the purpose of arousing emotion. 

The French Spring Festival 2021 recognises the power of words, and to highlight this, will be hosting a workshop on slam poetry in collaboration with the Alliance Française de Kotte. The French Spring Festival is a multidisciplinary festival fostering artistic links between France, Sri Lanka, and the Maldives since 2012. In its ninth edition, the French Spring Festival is organised jointly by the Embassy of France in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, the network of Alliance Française in Sri Lanka and the Maldives, with the support of their partners, Lanka Institute of Fashion Technology, SLYCANTrust, Publicis Groupe Sri Lanka, Café Français, ARTRA Magazine, SUEZ France, ATR Aircraft, Mod’Art International, AGC Innovate, Ceylon Theatres, Café Kumbuk, Emerging Media, and One Galle Face.

Other highlights of the French Spring Festival include an online photography contest, “My Island” (18 June to 18 July), a discussion with Prof. Eric Meyer and Prof. Sasanka Perera on Sri Lankan insularity (5 July), ModArt’s “Exposition de Mode” annual student fashion exhibition (8 July), and a musical evening with the band Sankhara (11 July). 

The festival’s slam poetry workshop will take place tomorrow, 2 July, at 3 p.m., and will serve as an introduction to the craft. The workshop will be conducted by one of the Alliance Française de Kotte’s teachers, Léa Benabdelghaffar, who will be taking participants through a short series of exercises in writing and performing, and guiding them to create their very own piece of slam poetry in keeping with the Festival’s 2021 theme “The Island”, which explores islands, how we see them, and the range of different insulatrities within different islands that vary by their size, position, culture, and conceptual understanding. Through history, islands have been subjected to a myriad of collective imaginaries and mythologies. They are mysterious and inaccessible, and have always been part of our geographical and literary understanding. The festival will look at what islanders are bringing to their island today. 

Brunch spoke with Benabdelghaffar ahead of her workshop to learn more about slam poetry and what the festival’s slam poetry workshop will be like. Explaining slam poetry, Benabdelghaffar shared that slam poetry is a poetry art that was born in the US in the 1980s, and has since grown and changed to become a popular form of poetry all over the world. Slam poetry is a form of performance poetry that combines the elements of performance, writing, competition, and audience participation. It is performed at events called poetry slams, or simply slams, which is what led to its name. “Slam poetry is about writing and reclaiming poetry,” Benabdelghaffar said. “It’s not something that is going to stay only in writing. It is oral poetry performed on stage.” 

The festival’s workshop on slam poetry is an introductory workshop for every member of the workshop to be able to write in their own language, regardless of what their native language is. Benabdelghaffar shared that the workshop will have two major parts the first half will consist of a writing exercise where members will learn a bit about how to write and give a sense of their writing, as well as exercises to help them explore the Festival’s theme of “The Island”. The second half of the workshop will be more poetry and performance with breathing and performative exercises before each member performs their piece of slam poetry. 

“I am not going to be teaching one specific kind of poetry,” Benabdelghaffar said, explaining how she would be approaching the workshop. “It’s more about giving participants the tools to explore their creativity through poetry.” She also explained that the workshop is based off similar workshops held by the Alliance Française that use poetry as a tool to teach French to non-native French speakers and those learning French, but that this workshop will differ because it is more about giving people an opportunity to discover the art of slam poetry and explore their creativity in a new way through this art form. 

Benabdelghaffar also shared that in her experience, while slam poetry is new to Sri Lanka, there is a real sense of poetry in Sri Lankan culture, though this is not at all a requirement for new forms like slam poetry to catch on, and that the responses she has received to slam poetry have always been very positive. Even without a strong poetic culture, Benabdelghaffar said that new forms like slam poetry are easy to adopt. “People feel that they cannot approach poetry or any poetry art like writing, because they don’t have a cultural knowledge, but that is wrong you don’t need a bog poetic culture to lean into.”

The festival’s slam poetry workshop is open to everyone, regardless of language and age, because, as Benabdelghaffar says, there is no specific age limit to be able to write poetry. The workshop is, however, limited to a total of eight members in order to create a space where everyone can share what they’re creating. “I don’t want it to be like a lecture,” Benabdelghaffar explained, adding: “It’s a workshop and the idea is to create.” 

The French Spring Festival’s slam poetry workshop with Alliance Française de Kotte’s Léa Benabdelghaffar will take place on Friday, 2 July, and participation will be limited for maximum impact. To register for this workshop, and to check out the other events taking place as part of the French Spring Festival, please visit  the French Spring Festival’s website https://www.frenchspringfestival.com