On curating Slam Poetry Nights for Dhaka Lit Fest tomorrow

Watch the event at Dhaka Lit Fest Day 1, January 5, 5:15 PM at Nazrul Mancha
Photos: Naimul Alam Alvi Design: Sarah Anjum Bari

Daily Star Books and SHOUT have been jointly organizing our monthly Slam Poetry Nights since September 2022. What goes into curating these Slam Poetry Nights sessions every month? 

A whole lot of heart.

It begins with the submissions, which begin rolling in as we open registrations each month. So many poems from so many writers, artists, thinkers from around and, sometimes beyond, Dhaka. With each month's curation of the performances, we at DS Books and SHOUT get a glimpse of the issues and ideas that are on our readers' minds. 

The first month saw verses that felt passionately about the chaos of Dhaka living. Last month saw an overwhelming amount of submissions on mental health—in particular, how our loved ones don't seem to understand it. Throughout all four months, the violence and the injustice we as women face everyday in our lives has been a constant theme. It reminds us of what is important, what is compelling in our daily lives, and conveyed through the lens of poetry, the urgency of these issues becomes even more palpable. It amazes us that we never give out a prompt, and yet one finds both patterns and diversity in the submissions we receive. Some have been known to bring us to tears during the sessions. 

For tomorrow's session of Slam Poetry Nights at the 10th Dhaka Lit Fest, injustice speaks bold and loud in the verses we have selected. The poems about to be performed tomorrow are concerned with power, with discrimination, with love, freedom of speech, identity, and justice. 

This brings us to the hardest part of putting up this event—not the hours we spend going through the submissions, nor the nights we spend designing posters, packing our goodie bags, scrambling through the city's shops in search of lights and props and stationery! The hardest part is selecting which poems will be performed. 

Here's a confession: no amount of academic training or work experience in creating literary content prepares us to select, from over a hundred submissions, just a handful of powerful verses. Poetry is subjective, and what appeals to any one of the Slam Poetry Team members often evades the interests of another. What always comes through is how strongly each poet feels about the subjects of their pieces. That makes the job even harder. 

And so it becomes a question of selecting not the "best" poems submitted, but a mix of topics and approaches that complement each other, which bring versatility of themes, language, and tone. We want our audiences to laugh and sigh as much as we would like to induce anger and tears. 

And as we always say, the most moving part about these poetry sessions is the conversations that arise from the performances—conversations on craft, inspiration, on what bothers us and what makes us want to go on.

We're excited to find all of that and more at the SHOUT X DS Books Slam Poetry Nights session at Dhaka Lit Fest tomorrow—5:15 PM at the Nazrul Mancha, Bangla Academy. 

Sarah Anjum Bari is editor of Daily Star Books and Star Literature. Reach her at sarah.anjum.bari@gmail.com and @wordsinteal on Instagram and Twitter.