A few years ago, the traveling culturati — specifically those into performance art — might have been hard-pressed to catch spoken word events in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Today, the local arts scene has to its name at least three monthly events spotlighting poetry written for the stage. With clever wordplay capturing the multicultural city’s zeitgeist, the events have been a welcome addition.
Ask around about spoken word poetry in KL and If Walls Could Talk, an event held every second Thursday of the month, is likely to come up. Launched in 2015, the program has evolved into something of an institution, recognized by KL’s veteran poets, who were part of now-defunct groups. “My friends and I started Walls because there were no regular spoken word nights,” says co-founder Melizarani T. Selva. “Now, it’s helped create a connected community.”
In three years, Walls has inspired a crop of young poets to host their own events. They use it to speak on sensitive subjects, including politics. “In Asian culture, talking about certain things can be uncomfortable. But the poetic form can help relieve anxiety,” says Ari Adzmin, founder of Oral Fixation, another monthly event. Other performers have also combined spoken word with music and theater pieces.
Most recently, local poets turned up in force at the first Malaysia National Poetry Slam, held as part of the George Town Literary Festival in Penang — a further sign of spoken word poetry’s growing popularity in Malaysia. And it doesn’t stop there — organizers of other live shows have been seeking poets too. “We no longer have to justify ourselves,” says Melizarani, confidently.
And what lies ahead for local spoken word poetry? Sheena Baharudin, a veteran poet (and host of the Speak Easy podcast on local radio station BFM), is cautiously optimistic. “I think we’re in a period of experimentation,” she says. “We’ve been inspired by the US and UK styles of performance, including hip hop music. Now, I’m excited to see poets embrace their own cultures and languages.”
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3 monthly events* to look out for in Kuala Lumpur
If Walls Could Talk: “Some rock star poets — like Luka Lesson from Australia — have performed here. There’s no separation between them and the audience. Everyone mingles,” says Melizarani. fb.com/ifwallscouldtalkkl
Oral Fixation: “This is a platform for beginners and veterans to perform spoken word pieces and other forms of poetry. We also welcome monologues and plays,” says Ari. fb.com/oralfixationsw
Jack It!: “We feature musicians and comedians, and we attract young performers to our open mics. We’re their experimental ground for trying new things,” says founder Dhabitah Zainal. fb.com/jackitmy
*Check online for most updated programming
Photo by Flatlined Photography and Oral Fixation
This article first appeared in the January 2019 issue of Smile magazine.