Then 10-year-old Aakriti Chaturvedi was entranced by the way that actor Farhan Akhtar’s soothing voice flowed through the movie theater. His voice-over in the scenes of “Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara” wasn’t dialogue — it was poetry written by his father Javed and full of a flowing, peaceful “vibe” that Chaturvedi loved.
A few days later, she went outside and began writing her first poem (about bubbles) in her pink-felt-flower-covered journal titled “Poems Diary.” Stuffed with rhymes and written as one giant paragraph with commas indicating each new line, her first poem was finished. But Chaturvedi wasn’t.
Now a senior, Chaturvedi is still turning to her flower journal. However, her poetry style has evolved from rhyming lines like “time for brunch” and “same old lunch” to poems that celebrate hair in different cultures and address the psychological effects of body dysmorphia. It’s not only Chaturvedi’s subjects that have changed, but also her audience.
Her poems aren’t just confined to her journal and Google Docs, they are performed as slam poetry — poems that are read aloud much like a monologue in a play. All of Chaturvedi’s poetry serves one central purpose: to promote strength in her audience.
Chaturvedi uses poetry as a way to send a message — she usually begins with a sad anecdote, like including a hospital scene in her poem “I wish I could understand,” that’s meant to extract a personal connection from audience members. She dedicates the latter half to reassuring the audience that their past mistakes don’t have to stick with them.
According to Chaturvedi, recognizing low points in one’s life and realizing that others are going through similar things is important. Although she hasn’t personally experienced the intense topics of her poems, she wants to remind those who have that everything ends in a good way, so if it’s bad then it’s not the end.
“I think especially at this age range with teenagers, it’s really easy to fall into depression and anxiety and I’ve seen so many people that are close to me that have fallen into that trap,” Chaturvedi said. “I just kind of want to make them know that it’s not worth it and whatever you’re struggling with, it will pass.”
Performing slam poetry elevates her messages because she’s able to reverberate and stress syllables to add emotion. Chaturvedi has competed in the two years East’s Poetry Slam has happened — she’s won both times.
The first time she competed, she spoke about loving yourself, and last year’s poem was about dissociative identity disorder and familial tension — confronting, not dodging controversial topics.
“I’m super lucky to not have gone through what so many people go through but I think I’ve seen it to the point where [other people’s sadness] does sometimes bother me,” Chaturvedi said. “Writing poetry and sharing that with them, I think definitely helps me through that.”
Chaturvedi’s hands sway up and down and her voice gets lower at certain points during her performances to emphasize her ideas. She compares it to the way that rappers will stress two specific lyrics to get their point across and ensure those points stick, like how she will scream one line and sob the next.
And her method works — an audience member placed their hands on Chaturvedi’s shoulders and thanked her for the poem following her performance last year. Junior Lily Turner, despite not being able to personally relate to the poem, felt the pain of Chaturvedi’s words through her performance.
“[The way she performed it] kind of added the ideas of anxiety over her poem,” Turner said.
To Chaturvedi, there’s a significant difference between written poetry and slam poetry. Written uses more metaphors and allows room for analysis while slam is more direct. According to her, strong messages like those related to mental health are better spoken aloud because if they’re on paper, people don’t take the time to appreciate what they mean.
“Being willing to talk about something that’s intense, which is usually also personal, is very powerful and especially in the way that [Chaturvedi] does it,” Amy Andersen, English and creative writing teacher and East Poetry Slam Head, said. “She’s writing things in a way that carries emotion through the beauty of the writing itself, and as we’ve talked about, with her powerful performances.”
Along with writing about heavy themes like depression and anxiety that she’s seen around her, Chaturvedi draws inspiration from movies — she recently created a poem based off of Netflix’s “Nappily Ever After” that covers dealing with cultured hair and then she moves on to promote embracing one’s cultured hair.
Whether it’s confronting mental health or hair, whenever she “feels” something, she writes, maybe she was watching a YouTube video about anxiety or taking a walk outside. According to Chaturvedi, it’s all about the mindset — some ideas take her four days to think of but end up not working out and others can become some of her best in just 30 minutes, like her slam poem “Pessimism is a Phase.”
Chaturvedi’s desire to address social issues and provide strength to her audience is present in her other creative outlets such as her art and music. She incorporates oppression of women into her artwork for IB art and expresses different interpretations of strength — the best example being a painting of an Indian queen clothed in red to represent the fire she threw herself into after her husband died in battle, which was a common occurrence in Indian history.
With her music, Chaturvedi prefers covering songs like Ruth B.’s “Lost Boy” which deals with losing your place and finding it again.
“I think she has that mindset. She does not want to stick to one thing,” Aakriti’s mom, Madhulika Chaturvedi said. “I mean she is an artist from the inside, so she wants to explore different kinds of things.”
The themes, lengths and settings of her performances, writing and music might change. But her purpose going forward? The same as everything she writes now.
“Even if the themes are different, what I want to get across is the fact that [people] can overcome their struggles,” Chaturvedi said. “So it could be like the tiniest problem or the biggest thing, and just letting the audience know that whatever they are struggling with, they can get over it. That’s an underlying message even if I don’t blatantly say that.”
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