Spoken Word, as opposed to the written form, allows you to give life to everything you write and speak. Airplane Poetry Movement aims at promoting performance poetry in various cities of India through workshops and performance poetry events like slams and open mics. We got in touch with Airplane Poetry Movement’s founder, Shantanu Anand, to talk about his love for spoken word, the idea behind APM, and more.
What made you go by the name, ‘Airplane Poetry Movement’?
A poem by Anis Mojgani, ‘For Those Who Can Ride in an Airplane For the First Time’ largely inspired both, Nandini and myself- we’re cofounders. We love that poem. So the name is a cheeky reference to that poem. Also, our movement is all about spreading spoken word amongst people and taking it beyond the boundaries of the ‘norm’, and ‘airplanes’ signified that.
How did APM come into existence?
That’s an interesting story, actually. It goes back a few months before we started APM, which was in December 2013. The turning point for us was the internship that Nandini and I did with Campus Diaries. Nandini was with them since April or May, and I joined in July of that year, if I remember correctly, and we were with them all the way till December. That internship changed the way we viewed things. I mean, before that internship, we didn’t know you could do things like that. We didn’t know that if you wanted to do something, you could actually go ahead and just do it. So, Campus Diaries gave us that position, you know; at that point, they were a pretty young startup, which had reached out and done an incredible amount of stuff in an incredibly short time. We saw that, we got inspired. We fell in love with spoken word poetry, and everything came together, and we thought, Why not go for it? And then Campus Diaries backed us. (They power APM). So they help with funding, but more importantly, with networks and contacts. We can meet and connect with a lot of people because of that.
How has the journey been since December 2013?
We learn everyday. I mean, when we started, it was a project to spread spoken word poetry among the youth. But since then, it’s become more defined on a conceptual level. I’ve learned so many things in so many different areas, that I don’t know where to start. We’ve expanded to five cities, but then that isn’t something we like to say. I mean, we want to stop identifying ourselves by that, because of the internet. You know, you can physically be in just one city, but your outreach could be far beyond that – even internationally – which is also something we’re looking at.
Initially, what got you interested in writing or poetry?
I’ve always been into poetry, but I think the first set of poems that I wrote was when I was in fourth standards, and I wrote this whole series of random poems. I think it included a lot of witches, rocking horses, trees, and horse rides.
How do you plan on expanding?
It’s very simple, actually. We believe in the DIY principle. And you know, anyone who wants to start something, can. Our primary aim is to get people into spoken word poetry, and there are many ways to do that – one of the ways is to hold poetry slams. We’re going to hold an online internship in May, for two months, and we’re going to teach the interns how to start their own slam. We had our first round of internship in February, so we already have a couple of people who completed the tasks, and who now have their own certified slams.
Like I said, we’re also trying to go international. One thing just led to another.
If you had to describe what you do to someone you’ve just met, what would you say?
“Spoken word poetry, which is basically poetry written to be performed – poetry itself, the way I see it, is the relationship between the abstract and the concrete. So if you look at poems, they talk about indefinable things – things that are tangible. We’re just trying to spread the word.”
So, a friend told me that his dislike for spoken word stemmed from the fact that given that it’s being performed, one cant interpret it in his/her own way.
Yeah, this isn’t the first time I’m hearing this. In many cases, spoken word poetry becomes very intimate between the performer and the audience and, not to sound really clichéd, but you can see into the performer’s heart, and into their soul. And when that happens, yes, interpretation doesn’t happen on the part of the audience. But then, you know, not all poetry is like that. Just because some music is composed on the guitar doesn’t mean all poetry is, and it’s the same thing with spoken word.
Describe a day in your work life.
So, I have this schedule, wherein I study at night, and everything else is done in the morning.
Describe an ideal day in your work life.
Well, an ideal day would probably comprise of me attending a slam – I love seeing people perform, and I wouldn’t be the one organizing it, because then, you have all the pressure, but it has to be me organizing, I suppose, since then that wouldn’t be a part of my work life. I’d meet a lot of people who are interested in spoken word – either as poets, or as organizers; and I’d get to discover fifteen great poets, because Nandini and I are now trying to conduct a nationwide search for spoken word poets, so yeah that’d be great.
What would the last line of your autobiography be?
Wow, I hadn’t thought about that. Ideally, it would probably be hilarious, and really witty; but I’m not really a funny guy; I’m not really good at intelligent humor. But if I had to say something, I’d probably say “Come to our next slam”, or “Start writing poetry”, because my autobiography would just be a selling point to convince people to start writing poetry. *laughs*
If you could choose one, would you rather organize a slam, or attend it?
Oh, I’d definitely be organizing. If the alternative were me performing, (…) Unless I can’t listen to other performers while organizing- which is very rare, but it does happen sometimes; so as long as I get to listen to others, I’d choose organizing- but that’s only for a slam or a spoken word show. If you’d ask me to organize a college fest or something, I’d get very bored. *laughs*
Which one of your own works has influenced you the most?
Funnily enough, as soon as I perform a poem for the first time, I start seeing all these holes in it, and I start hating it. So yeah, none of my works ended up influencing me.
Which of someone else’s works has influenced you the most, and why?
The first one is the one I mentioned before, by Anis Mojgani- “For Those Who Can Ride in an Airplane For the First Time’ He has another piece, though, which is one of the first spoken word poems I heard, “Direct Orders”. The first time I watched that video, it changed my life (yes, I know it sounds clichéd). On the face of it, it’s a really simple piece but for me, it was incredibly liberating. And this was just about the time we were starting APM. Once I saw what spoken word can do, and how it can make one feel, it was definitely one of the pushing factors. Even now, any time I feel tired, or when I keep hitting dead ends, I just put on that video, and it’s just really liberating.
What are you currently working on/ what are you releasing, next?
Yeah, we have the National Slam coming up- which would be India’s first one. So we’re planning for that now. Other than that, of course, we’re always finding more ways to discover new poets, to inspire more people- not just to write or organize, but to express themselves- be it through poetry or not, we want people to start talking. Because if you think about it, there’s a lot of random crap on the Internet. We are being represented by people who are not really us. You go online and there’s this whole mainstream view about what we are like- and that generally are about none of us. So we would love for people to be documenting the times, and about what’s happening right now. Twenty years from now, you won’t be able to get that from a Times of India article. You /could/ get it more organically from a sixteen year old kid who’s talking about what’s happening.
What, according to you, is more important- the idea, or its execution/presentation?
Execution, definitely. I mean, I’ve had so many ideas over the last year- and not just regarding APM. The way I see it, you can get an idea in five minutes. But to execute a good idea, it takes weeks, or months, most of the time. Growing up, I always gave ideas more importance. But in the last year and a half, I’ve come to gain a lot of respect for processes, and operations. The real innovators are the ones who see something and say, “This is how it’s being done. But how else could you do it?” And once you start looking at life like that, it changes everything. So yeah, the real innovators are the ones who are changing the processes.
What does it take as a person, to do what you’re doing? What were the circumstances involved?
Passion, I think. That’s what it took for Nandini and me. You need guts and courage- that’s what passion does. It provides you with the fuel. You need hard work and determination, and everything- those are the things you can’t do without; over the past year and half, we easily spent around 2000 -2500 hours working on APM- and this is focused working. So you have to spend time with it, you can’t be lazy. But for me, in one word, the answer to it is passion. And it’s not just me, people all over the world are getting more passionate about spoken word poetry- which also helps with the circumstances- you know, it becomes easier as it gets more known.
Are you involved in something other than this?
I’m a huge football fan- and the way I see it, not having tactics is like not understanding the language of a poem. It’s like you like a poem because it looks good on paper, but you don’t really understand it. It’s the same with football. There’s no tactical writing in India, so I’d love to start a project that achieves the same (probably won’t happen anytime soon though).
What Nandini and I also spoke about was if alongside APM, we could start something, maybe in the future, which does more concrete things. The first stage is obviously, when you face a problem, you talk about it. But we want to also get to that second stage where you actually do something about it. So that’s something we’ll try doing in the foreseeable future, hopefully.
How do you balance you personal and professional lives?
I’m not sure, really. I work during the day and study at night. But there’s no clear compartmentalization as such. I’ve never been a very socially active person, so that helped. I didn’t really have to give up too much.
If you were a box of cereal, what would you be? Why?
Fruit Loops. I have so many different sides to my personality, or Chocos. Because they’re brown and I have dark skin. or Frosty. Like regular cornflakes, but with sugar on top.
If you were a pizza deliveryman, how would you benefit from scissors?
If they don’t tip me well, they get a terrible haircut /and/ no pizza. The way I’m selling it is a pizza with a haircut free.
What would your three sentences in the game ‘Two truths and a lie’ be?
a. “I think spoken word is the best form of expression.”
b. “I think Facebook is one of the best tools for communication in the modern age.”
c. “I think there’s going to be a really good EDM movement in India over the next 5-10 years.”
What’s your least favorite thing about yourself?
Indiscipline, off the top of my head. It’s the root cause of all my problems.
With regard to what you’re pursuing, do you have a story for your grandchildren?
“By 2014, robots took over the world and I stopped them single handedly. They had a weakness. They’d short circuit around pressure cookers. And I discovered that, and then I ran around with pressure cookers.”
What has been your best experience while interacting with people who respect your work?
his guy came up to Nandini and me and recognized us from TEDx Bangalore, where we’d performed a piece, and we were completely taken aback.
Do you believe in the butterfly effect?
Do you think you’re making a difference to the world?
I like to think we’re making a difference- maybe not to the world, but definitely to individuals.