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Performing poetry in style


‘I observe the world around me and response in writing” said Chicago born Australian performance poet Miles Merrill. He was in Kolkata recently and delivered sessions in different schools across the city. Merrill’s style of writing poetry majorly emphasises on the use of all the five senses, touch, hear, taste and smell.

In all the schools where he visited in his two-day stay, he made the students think about what they did the night before and carved a poem out of it. He called all these poems “Last Night in Calcutta”. He is inspired by artists like Tom Waits, John Mitchell but now the ones who inspire him the most are the people around him. “We observe the world through our senses and then we add those sensory perceptions to our emotions and imaginations which becomes our 6th sense,” said Merrill.

He started the national poetry slam in Australia, on being asked what encouraged him to do so, he said, “it is too boring to just listen to yourself, so you need to encourage others, to know what they think, feel, hear, touch and taste, that way, others will get an opportunity to express themselves and write a poetry out of it”.

Merrill’s organisation called the Word Travels conduct poetry slams that are a literary or literacy programme across Australia and a few other countries like China, Indonesia and New Zealand. They essentially try to reach out to the rural parts of these countries in order to hunt for talent in those parts. He started his career as a trombone

player for his small band in Chicago. His journey as a performance poet began once he moved to Australia. His job, while in the band would be to take the microphone and shout into it.  “In Chicago, I was in a band where I was the trombone, and I would just shout into the mic. What I do now was started in Australia”, he said.

It was not easy for him at all to make a living by just being a performing poet, in fact, in the initial years he had to struggle hard to earn money. Even though his writings do not stay confined to a particular subject but sometimes he does take up social issues. One of the factors th has hugely inspired him to write is racism. Merrill who is of an African, Irish, British and Italian descent has faced racism in his personal life.

“I would thank those racist people who inspire me, sometimes it is difficulty and struggle that creates the best artwork. We should not complain about concrete but instead respond as artists by flowers so creating poetry is like creating beauty.”

According to him, art is the best form to give out social messages because if somebody directly showers opinions on others, there are chances the audiences will disagree but if the same audiences are made to swim through the journey, through the happiness and sadness, they might end up empathising and agreeing with you.

He thinks, given the rich poetic past, India has a bright future in the field of poetry and performance poetry. In the 19th century, Calcutta used to have own poetry wars which are similar to poetry slam. In fact, he was extremely surprised to witness the overwhelming response that hereceived from school

students. “I’d rather come back and run poetry slams in India”, he said.