Poems and Other Myths:

A collection of spoken word poetry by women from Asia.



"Remember this tragedy. Use it to change history. Write your own story"
- From Medusa, Elaine Foster

The idea for this anthology germinated at the poetry readings in Italy, inspired in part by the beautiful poetic city of Salerno, but also by the poetry and poets that we met there, especially Michael Rothenberg, who suggested the anthology in the first place.

The editorial team — Aditi Angiras, Elaine Foster and Illya Sumanto met there in June at the 100 Thousand Poets For Change - First World Conference 2015, where we noticed that we were the only spoken word artists from the Asian continent — curiously, all of them women and some of them queer. This opened up a dialogue of solidarity and a scope for collaboration, a project this collection of spoken word poems by women from Asia is a part of.

Various Youtube channels and Buzzfeed articles are anthologizing the urban form of spoken word but the climate and the climax of most of these videos are extremely North American, with a pinch of diaspora and a tadka of socio-political issues. A neoliberal language of individualism haunts all this poetry, which says "I am who I am" but when the unboxing of the Asian identity occurs, if at all, it occurs only in the context of how equal and how American these identities are. With this collection, we wanted women from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore to enter the conversation and talk from various locations, colours, voices outside this mainstream of spoken word poetry. We wanted to look at what does being 'me' from 'right here' mean.

While we are aware of the things we are negotiating, compromising and fucking up, we still feel that the space this collection is creating had been long time coming. Some of the major questions we grappled with are: What is spoken word? Which Asia, who Asians? Which women qualify? Why put together a collection of the text of these poems and not an audio-visual compilation?

Our definition of Asian includes, persons raised or living in Asia and persons of Asian descent. However, because we were primarily looking for poems written originally in English, we ended up reaching out to the artist communities that we knew personally in South Asia and South-East Asia.

The oral tradition has been an integral part of women's experiences since the beginning of recorded time. Women, often denied access to writing and reading skills and materials throughout 'his' story, have verbally passed down individual stories, documented poetry, preserved recipes for physical and emotional healing, and ensured survival of what might otherwise be lost or suppressed in a male-dominated world. This amalgamation of voices are perhaps true to the current women's movement, the current women's spoken word movement.

Slam poetry is a creative site for the performance of identities. The author performs their poems live on stage, so all slam poems become the author's performance of identity on some level because of the author's mandated presence on stage. Their speech, dress, gestures, voice and body and so on all reflect in some way on the poem and these various aspects of embodiment convey nuances of cultural difference that the page cannot. With the author's embodiment, the audiences are instantly privy to the physical and performative markers of the identity that consciously or unconsciously inform their understanding of the poem through certain cultural lenses. However, in this project, by putting the text/lyrics of these performance pieces into print, we wanted to complicate both these ideas - turning the very text and this anthologizing into a performance piece in itself.

With this collection we wanted to explore the stories of Asian, woman, and poet identities: the woman, the woman writer, the woman poet, the Asian woman poet. By every means exotic and something to be feared, among other things, for its otherness. In the big power play of naming (and shaming), it is not ourselves who hold the privilege to name our own shame, but yours, the reader's —

"We can't even use our own shame to name ourselves properly" - Raising The Bar, Elaine Foster.

And it is shame that we carry for you, a burden borne out of a postcolonial world. Militarized, victimized, feminized, globalized and now anthologized, the Asian woman is a body that has been conquered, dissected, categorized, classified and mythologized many times over.

These poems serve as inspiration, offer a mode to change and challenge narratives, those narratives where women have had to play a submissive, secondary, victim role, where women exist as a mere body that violence happens to.

But the poems also serve as a re-membering and therefore a healing, at least a place where the healing can begin because the very act of speaking allows for re-membering. But consequently there will be a re-traumatising, opening old wombs to let them bleed, to wash away, clean and then close the wound so it can finally heal.

It is a critical shift for female spoken word poets in Asia to finally have a collective conversation with a focus on identity and moral/personal development as a woman, situated within social hierarchies / socially conventional perspectives.

A sign of success- this anthology could be imagined as a cultural artifact of women in Asia, revamped, debunking the myths of what or who we are (sweet, innocent, submissive, objects etc)

The originality we can claim is that which may result from the attempt to put together the scattered commonplace of radical female voices in this fertile territory that have been suppressed, defused, twisted, forgotten and criticized for betraying religious, racial, national, and high cultural prejudices.

Note: We understand the limitations of this project and believe that anthologizing is a continuous process. This collection is only a first step to reaching out to a community of fellow poets and asking them to share our stories.