Constantinos Papageorgiou

- Cyprus -

The experience of sharing my poems orally is an act full of meaning. Bearing in mind how few readers of poetry there are, to have the opportunity to bring your poems to life outside the paper universe of the books, in the context of an event or festival, acquires added significance inasmuch as it gives you access to more recipients. Besides, what is poetry other than an existential need to say something and be heard? Poetry is a silent revolution. 

Of course, it all depends on how one chooses to perform their work. I must confess that sometimes I get quite bored listening to some of my fellow litterateurs reading excerpts from their writings. I feel they read too earnestly, so much so that they put further distance between poetry and its recipients. I have the feeling that in doing so they employ poetry as an elitist genre, implicitly suggesting that “artless” people cannot possibly receive “high” and “serious” poetry.

To recite my poems, I draw on my experiences from amateur theatre and set out to physicalize the poem by identifying myself with the poetic subject – which either way originates from me. Sometimes I recite my poems as though performing a brief dramatic monologue. In other words, rather than reading them, I feel I play the part they expose as they unfold.

Other times I take it one step further, adding motion to perform my poems in a way that my performance looks like theatre. This is obviously a case of poetry performance. Instead of dramatizing a theatrical text, it is as though a poem accommodates a stage scene. In this way, the boundaries between poetry and theatre appear to merge. I do wonder what an actor would say if he saw a poet “acting” poetry. The last time I gave it a try, I was commented upon as “still needing lots and lots of work!!” However, this invites the question: if it’s true that the poet knows better than anyone else how to perform his own poem, then how can he be criticized over his performance and, what is more, take such criticism into consideration? 

Discussing poetry performance with critics or lovers of poetry, it emerges that on occasion this particular strand makes you feel awkward. There are those who don’t think of it as poetry because it is not written down; and there are those who don’t think of it as performance because it is usually performed by people who haven’t studied performance. So, what is poetry performance? Could it simply be a hybrid strand, born of the fusion between two different arts? In my opinion, it doesn’t need to be unfavourably compared to poetry as a lower sub-genre. I confess I do not expect everyone to like it. As far as I am concerned, as a receiver, I equally enjoy reading poetry at home by myself as well as watching poetry performance in public.

Then there’s another strand: poetry slam. Three years ago, when I participated in the 1st International Poetry Slam, Cyprus (organized by Ideogramma) I had no idea what exactly was meant by ‘Poetry Slam.’ In hindsight it appeared that almost none of us did. What I did eventually looked a lot more like poetry performance. The same applied to the 2ndInternational Poetry Slam where I stood out and therefore got to represent Cyprus to the European Poetry Slam Championship (Budapest, 2018). In fact, Budapest, where I competed against European slam champions, was where I finally grasped the notion of Poetry Slam. Needless to say, I was not one of the winners there! 

From what I understand, Slam Poetry departs from the idea of theatrical performance in that it does not require performers to act a role other than themselves. Also, Slam Poetry is usually politicized in the sense that each poet shares a manifesto on stage. After all, it is no coincidence that several slammers externalize anger and wrath when performing their poem. In addition, in Slam Poetry you are not allowed to use props, and on-stage motion is not at all customary. Slamming is a particularly stressful strand: it is a contest appraised by a panel of judges, there is a three-minute time limit and, last, it helps to make sure you have learned your poem by heart. 

Only twice have I happened to compose a poem knowing beforehand that I would perform it at a Poetry Slam. The key difference is that these poems are addressed to a specific audience who will be there to listen to you reciting them, and they need to be vibrant, communicative, political and long enough to last for up to 3 minutes.

To sum up all the above, I feel the need to distinguish between recitation, performance and slam. I like to think that nothing of the three should be either envious or scared of the other two. On the contrary, they are intercommunicative and able to enrich one another. As far as Poetry is concerned, it has nothing to be frightened of its physicalization. As for me, I remain open to the new insights that these strands may reveal as I go on experimenting with them.