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How did you get into spoken word? I had started writing at Atlantic College but never shared it with many. When I got to Brown, I attended a benefit for the Pakistani floods my first month there. Laura, Franny and Tim were performing at the event. I was mesmerized. Here was theatre, and poetry all packaged into one. I founded Amina afterwards and asked her what this was. She told me WORD! was a writing group that met in the basement of Africana studies department every Thursday at 9pm. I went to the next meeting, and never looked back. For 3 months I just sat Thursday after Thursday listening to all of these inspiring, thoughtful writers who talked about issues of race and injustice and war and things that mattered, and they did it so beautifully, I was awe-struck. 3 months in, one of my seniors came to me and said, you cant just take from this space. You also need to give back. So I wrote my first “spoken word” poem walking through campus one night. Can you talk us through your writing process for your spoken word poetry? Its highly inefficient. Ill be thinking about something – usually something I read, or see in the news. I’ll just rant for pages and pages. Then I’ll let it breathe for a while before coming back to it and completely ripping it apart. Sometimes when I’m zapped off inspiration, I just sit and listen to some of my favourite spoken word poets for hours. Imitation is the best form of poetry, to be honest. You use a skeleton, then make it your own. Slowly, you experiment with different forms and if youre lucky, at the end of it you come up with a style that is uniquely your own.   What is it like to perform in different settings? How do you find the different audiences? Its absolutely beautiful every single time. I love being on stage. It was theatre before, poetry now. But something in the way I can look into people’s eyes and tell where they’re at (and if they’re actually listening or not!). But audiences are so unpredictable, and that’s the most exciting part for me. None of it ever seems rehearsed because each time is a journey I take with the audience, and we both learn a little bit about each other throughout the performance.  

Have you ever had to force a piece? Yes, many times when I’ve had to work for a deadline. It’s like pulling teeth. Its extremely frustrating. It’s why I can’t have writing be my career. I’d be a horrible person to be around because I get into a terrible mood when I can’t write. What's most significant about spoken word poetry, and how do you hope to build upon its impact in the years to come? For me, there’s no one way about it. It’s a form of storytelling. An ancient tradition that has been a part of us, as humans, for centuries. Spoken word has the power to heal, to excite, to inspire – it does not depend on expertise or talent. It’s a way of looking at the world in all of its complexities and making sense of it all, creatively. It certainly has the ability to reach across to people no matter what boundaries we confine them into. I have seen it heal children in schools I taught workshops in after the Peshawar shooting, and incarcerated women when I worked at the prisons in Rhode Island. It has no age. It has no gender. Or race. And especially now, with the world erupting into fire everywhere, this is perhaps our best shot at maintaining our own sanity.   Which advice would you give to young people interested in performance poetry? DO IT. Don’t let anyone tell you you have to be a certain way to be able to write. Poetry is precicely what you decide you want it to be. Run with it. Go to poetry events, join writing groups. Performance poetry begins first, with good writing. You need to create a piece that has as much impact when read on paper, as it does when it is performed. If you don’t have a writing circle, get a few people together, and make one. Listen to youtube videos of Andrea Gibson, Anis Mojgani, Sarah Kay, Phil Kaye to begin with, then keep going. Then write, just begin the process and don’t fixate on perfection. A poem is always being edited. Chances are, a few years from now it will be a completely different piece. And lastly, trust yourself to be the best judge of your experience. The best person to write your own narrative. Use poetry to articulate your own thought, don’t try to use it to explain what everyone else is thinking – and viola!

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PAPERAZZI MAGAZINE

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PakistanToday Paperazzi E issue 80 March 15th , 2015  

Weekly magazine of Pakistan Today. Published every Sunday, Paperazzi performs a roundup of the weeks latest events & reviews in Arts, Entert...

PakistanToday Paperazzi E issue 80 March 15th , 2015  

Weekly magazine of Pakistan Today. Published every Sunday, Paperazzi performs a roundup of the weeks latest events & reviews in Arts, Entert...

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