Once The Domain Of Shakespeare, The Art Of Poetry Is Cooler Than Ever

From "Insta poets" to spoken word slams, this classic form of literature is enjoying a renewed surge of popularity.

You don't have to spend too much time on Instagram to witness how popular poetry is on the social media platform.

Names like Nayyirah Waheed, Rupi Kaur, R.M. Drake, Amanda Lovelace and Yrsa Daley-Ward have become hugely successful for their digitized verses.

Reflecting the fast-paced nature of the medium and its young audience, their work features bite-size rhyme schemes encased in meme-ready graphics.

While some purists have argued these Insta poets have "openly denigrated" the art-form, their work has undoubtedly contributed to poetry's revival.

And in addition to this prose beaming from our hand-held screens, the dynamic experience of spoken word has undergone a similar renaissance.

It took off in America in the form of open mic nights and entered the public conscience in the 1960s, through politically-minded acts like The Last Poets.

A National Poetry Slam competition was then created before the turn of the century.

The phenomenon is now gaining momentum in Australia, and in the spirit of its lyrical relative hip-hop, has gained traction specifically within marginalised communities.

Sara Mansour -- co-founder of Australia's largest regular spoken word event, Bankstown Poetry Slam (BPS) -- told 10 daily the movement here is steadily growing.

Bankstown Poetry Slam's co-founder Sara Mansour told 10 daily the spoken word movement in Australia is steadily growing. Image: Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue.

"We started a local poetry slam so we wouldn’t have to travel all the way to the city.

Five and a half years later, we regularly attract 350-400 people every month to our slams and people from all over Sydney have a space to return to, where they feel like they belong."

BPS's fourth annual Grand Slam -- where poets compete as teams rather than individuals -- is being held later this month.

"The energy is different because the teams are randomly drawn and people of completely different backgrounds and world views have to seek common threads within their writing and 'artivism'," she described.

Mansour, born and raised in southwest Sydney, heralded the young poets who grace Bankstown Poetry Slam's stage as the "[Khalil] Gibrans of our time".

"We have a real focus on engaging and upskilling the youth so [entrants] are now teaching poetry in schools and performing at events like the Sydney Writers Festival, Biennale of Sydney and Sydney Contemporary Fair," she proudly shared.

BPS had to hire security after controversial politician Mark Latham called it “Islamic political ranting” on social media earlier this year.

Crowds are regularly sold-out at Bankstown Poetry Slam's monthly events. Image: Zach Janus.

"We learnt a lot about having systems and protocols in place to deal with online trolls, who unfortunately seem to be abundant!" Mansour added.

Award-winning author, poet and rapper Omar Musa told 10 daily that Bankstown Poetry Slam is one of the most important cultural youth movements in Australia.

"It’s a space allowing young people to reflect the world they live in, but also project how it might one day be, in ways that are creative, intelligent, funny, sad, moving and rambunctious," he offered.

Local resident Turkan Aksoy said the monthly events contributed in "enormous" ways to the wider Bankstown community.

"In terms of identity and expression for our young people, it gives them a voice on issues like family, employment, loss, stereotypes and love.

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It's important to provide spaces for young people to express themselves in a health and constructive way," she offered.

Spoken word poetry has always been a hit with diverse audiences because, as Mansour contested, it puts the microphone in the hands of those "who need to be heard".

"Marginalised communities are often stigmatised and represented negatively in the media.

Being able to perform your work in front of a live audience, see the crowd’s reactions and feel that connection is so empowering," she stated.

US actress and comedian Amanda Seales -- who gave a powerful performance during her appearance on HBO series Def Poetry Jam -- told 10 daily performing her poetry provided an outlet to share views that for once "weren't being policed, but applauded."

Actress and Def Poetry Jam alumni Amanda Seales told 10 daily that live poetry is a "creative release to heal, grow and thrive". Image: C Flanigan/Getty.

"Not only to narrate our own experiences, but also a space for creative release to heal, grow and thrive," she continued.

Recently crowned Australian Poetry Slam Champion Melanie Mununggurr-Williams said speaking her truth on stage as an Aboriginal woman was extremely powerful.

"By getting up and performing in front of an audience, I'm able to shed light on issues affecting minority groups through a non-threatening artistic performance," she shared.

Featured image: Western Sydney Leadership Dialogue.

Contact the author: samelia@networkten.com.au.