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Unspoken: A new poetry slam series in Bali

Posted: 27 March 2018

Attracting poets and poetry fans from across Indonesia and the world, the annual Poetry Slam at Betelnut is always a UWRF highlight. The thrilling event has ignited the hunger of three young Indonesians and seasoned UWRF volunteers for more poetry slams in Bali throughout the year. And so they created Unspoken, a quarterly community-based poetry slam project. We spoke to one of the organizers, Virginia Helzainka, ahead of the first slam on Saturday 31 March.

Virgi, when did you first start writing poetry, and how did you discover poetry slams?

I first started writing poetry intensively last year for a college assignment as part of my English major, but I discovered poetry slam through the UWRF. It totally clicked with me. After that I watched lots of poetry slam videos, and started writing poetry in the slam style.

Before I started writing poetry in this style, I was pretty much intimidated by poetry. At first I was never really too sure about myself writing poetry, because it’s so condensed and it’s challenging, so I was never really confidant about it. I didn’t really read a lot of poetry until poetry slam. I was so used to reading short stories, which are very detailed, so when I jumped into poetry I was quite amused by it, but also very intimidated at the same time.

There is power that the poet has in engaging you to listen to their poetry. And that’s amazing. That’s why I love poetry slam.

The poetry slam style clicked with me because it’s really straightforward and really emotional. It connects with the audience. There’s power that the poet has in engaging you to listen to their poetry. And that’s amazing. That’s why I love poetry slam.

When did you and the other organizers, Trifitri Muhammaditta (Ditta) and Doni Marmer, develop the idea for Unspoken?  

We met at Ubud Food Festival in 2015, and really started talking about the idea at UWRF in 2016. All three of us always attended the poetry slam night. Doni won in 2015, and in 2016 and 2017 I performed. Ditta didn’t really like to perform but she always attended. As UWRF is only once a year, Doni and I had this hunger for poetry slam, and we also wanted to spread the word about it to new communities in Bali to bring it to new audiences.

MCs Virgi and Ditta at Ubud Food Festival 2017

Why did you choose Irama Indah in Denpasar as the first venue?

We chose Irama Indah because it’s central, and we’re trying to connect with the community in the city. We know the venue is very stage-like because it’s actually a music recital hall, so the sound and the set up are very intimate and will be great for the poetry slam style. It’s also well known because the short film organization Minikino have a lot of film screenings there, and they will after the poetry slam. Kak Edo from Minikino, which runs many events and its own film festival, shared a lot with us about management, so it was great to have a bit of mentoring from him.

Why is your poetry slam called Unspoken?

Some poetry slams don’t have a theme. They just have people coming and performing anything. But we wanted to have a theme to make people be more productive in writing poetry. When we thought about the kinds of themes that we wanted, they all had one thing in common, which is the things we hardly say in public, or things that are hard to say out loud.

Through poetry we hope these unspoken ideas, unspoken voices and unspoken feelings are expressed through poetry, so that’s why we decided to use the word unspoken, because we think it’s time to speak the unspoken. The first Unspoken theme is Anxiety.

Each Unspoken slam will have two best performers, who will then be up against each other in the final event of the year. The winner will receive a 4-Day Pass to the UWRF18 if they are Indonesian, and a 1-Day Pass if they’re from overseas. For all the information on the event and how to register, click here. Follow on Instagram: @unspokenpoetryslam