Poets highlight pressing issues at UCSI University’s Poetry Slam 2016

KUALA LUMPUR: Can poetry deliver change? Thirteen amateur poets explored the role of poetry in bringing change when they participated at UCSI University’s Poetry Slam Competition 2016. 

Poetry slam is a live literary performance in a judged competition where poets take to the stage to express themselves through the recital of poems crafted on their own. 

Themed “Poetry for Change”, the competition saw the talented poets highlighting pressing issues concerning women, racism, patriotism and even mental health. 

Bagging the first prize for courageously performing poems based on personal experiences was Mok Jee Wen. The award was her first.

“I’ve been slamming for two-years and this is the first competition I took part in. It took me two-months to practise with a lot of time and effort going into mental preparation rather than memorising the poems. That was the easy part,” the 26-year-old said. 

Mok revealed the toughest challenge was maintaining a stage presence – something she always had difficulty with until this very competition where she decided to let go of her fears. 

“Stage presence is everything along with the strength to maintain composure as each audience member has different expectations.” 

The external auditor’s poem on mental illness touched the judges and members of the audience who snapped their fingers in approval – a common practise among poetry slam-goers. 

Coming in second place was UCSI’s English Language & Communication (ELC) degree student, Gwendoline Esther Hay Ai Yin who shared the first-runner-up prize with returning competitor, Sarah Rani. 

The first-year student said she had to obtain pointers from seasoned local poetry slammers such as Melizarani Selva and Enbah Nilah to prep herself for the competition. 

“I started muttering my poems under my breath everywhere I went as the competition date drew closer. It was so funny when people caught me doing it,” the 22-year-old Malacca born related. 

The award came as a shock as this was the first time she entered a competition after just beginning to perform poetry earlier this year. 

Her poems tackled patriarchy head on in a fun and witty way. Many members of the audience were left in stitches during her performance. 

“Poetry has always had a certain sway over the minds and hearts of those who encounter it. 

“Looking back, majority of poets wrote about things they cared most deeply about and that kind of sincerity speaks to people whether it’s coming off a page or off a stage,” Gwendoline said. 

For Sarah, experiencing elimination from last year’s competition made her determined to better herself this time around. 

“Last year’s competition was my first and I was proud for pushing through to round-two unexpectedly. 

“Since then I started attending various poetry gigs and events to prepare for this day, hoping to make it to round-three,” the 30-year-old lecturer said. 

The second runner-up was seasoned poet Enbah Nilah, who experimented with some of her lesser known poems. 

“This competition served as a great avenue for me to test the waters. I refrained from using some of my popular poems and tried the less comfortable ones to gauge the audience’s response,” she said. 

The Competition was judged by prominent figures in the Malaysian art scene namely, Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre Executive Producer and Co-Founder Dato' Faridah Merican, former academician at Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) Assoc Prof Che Fatimah Dinna, Kuala Lumpur Performing Arts Centre Artistic Director and Co-Founder Joe Hasham, Kakiseni President Low Ngai Yuen, Academician at The University of Nottingham and poet Sheena Baharudin. 

Organised by the English Language Student Association (ELSA) in collaboration with the Faculty of Social Sciences and Liberal Arts (FOSSLA), the competition was preceded by a Poetry Slam Workshop 2016, held on the 3rd of September 2016 led by well-known poetry educator; Elaine Foster. 

The workshop and competition were organised to encourage creative cross-disciplinary communication through the spoken word. Both events are part of UCSI’s ongoing Right to Read campaign that aims to encourage the passion for reading. 

Senior Professor Dato’ Dr Khalid Yusoff, UCSI’s Vice-Chancellor and President officiated the competition. “Poetry will remind us of human values as we progress further into a digitally sophisticated age,” he said in his speech. 

Also present was Assistant Professor Dr Chan Nee Nee, Dean of FOSSLA.

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