Interview with Makis Moulos the founder of poENtry slam

Makis Moulos (Greece,1980), is a trilingual writer, poet and a spoken word artist, based in Barcelona, Spain, where he lives since 2007. He uses his confident style to explore themes such as sexuality, stigmas and gender. He has published 4 personal poetry anthologies and collaborated in 2 books of short stories in Greece. He writes and performs in English, Spanish and Greek.

Makis is the organizer of the monthly tournament “poENtry slam” (Poetry Slam tournament in English) in Barcelona and the monthly tournament “Poetry Slam Gr” in Greece (also the founder). He is also the organizer of the annual festival “Duende Sessions Festival” in Barcelona, which combines live music with spoken word performances in English, Spanish and Catalan.

Is there a difference between poetry slam and spoken word poetry?

Yes of course. First of all, Poetry Slam includes the competition part, if we think about it as a tournament that is happening around the world. If we think about it as a performance, Poetry Slam is a more natural performance, connecting with the audience in a natural way, when Spoken Word poetry is a more theatrical performance. Also, in Poetry Slam you cannot use any music to accompany your performance or any props or costumes, when in Spoken Word you can use whatever you want in order to give more power to your text and performance. Another key difference is the time range. A slam poem it is supposed to be performed in a maximum of 3 minutes, as a general rule, or 4 minutes in a couple of countries, like Germany for example. In Spoken Word, you can do a 10 minutes poem if you feel like it and combine it with whatever you want. I’ll dare to say that Spoken Word is a more professional performance and that the Poetry Slam is the first step before you go to the Spoken Word world. Writing a slam poem is different as well, because you have to keep in mind that with a maximum of 500 words, you should take the attention of the public, meaning that every word matters. In Spoken Word you can play with long silences or perform a long poem without taking a breath for an hour if you can do it. But this is something that only Kae Tempest can do. 

Would you like to introduce us to the tournament Poetry Slam GR?

Yes sure. I brought the Poetry Slam in Greece in 2018. As I live in Barcelona for the last 14 years, I discovered here the poetry slam scene in 2015 and I fell in love with the whole idea of the poet to go on stage. So I searched and I saw that there was no slam scene in Greece and I thought “Why not”. I love poetry and I love to listen to it. It wasn’t easy in the beginning because people had no idea what a poetry slam was, so I had to make workshops and put some more strict rules than other countries have, in order to bring this new poetry thing in a conservative Greece. One of the rules is that the poets cannot read from paper, which brings the poet to another dimension. To perform and not read their poems. The idea was to bring people to see poetry. That’s why there is the competition part. Competition brings people to see whatever. It’s in human nature. So, let’s go to the tournament. Poetry Slam is a monthly event in the form of a tournament of one year period. In each event we have 10 poets participating and “competing” between each other. We don’t choose poems or poets. Each month we open subscriptions and we make a draw for the final participants. We give the opportunity to everyone who has something to say to go on stage and say it in 3 minutes. We ask for volunteers from the public to judge the poems and the performance of each poet. The reason that we don’t have a professional jury, is that the idea of slam is that everyone has the right to judge art. It’s all about what the poet makes you feel. We have 5 judges and they can give a score between 0 and 10. The higher and the lower scores are not counted in, so we sum up the 3 in the middle to be fair and the highest score is 30 points. The poets are scored right after their performance. The 4 poets with the highest score, go to a second round and they perform another poem of their own and from this round we have the winner of the event. The score is accumulative throughout the year and at the finals, the winner is the one who had the highest accumulative score throughout the year and this person has the opportunity to participate to the European and World Poetry Slam Championship, in which I’m in the organizing team since last year. The big deal with the poetry slams, is how not to create competitive people, but I think now we are at a good moment, that poets don’t really care about winning. As the founder of Poetry Slam, Mark Kelly Smith, says, “The point is not the points. The point is poetry”. 

Your video poem has a very strong title: Believe in your murderer. Which is that poem that makes it to stand out between others?

“Believe in your murderer” is a very important poem for me. I remember when I first performed it in Spanish in Barcelona, with 800 people in the public, I could hear people cheering and I could see people crying in the public. When I got off the stage, a woman came to me and she hugged me very strongly. She was thanking me about this poem and she told me that she needed to hear it. She told me that she had a 15 year’s old daughter that was a lesbian and that she is totally ok with that, but she was terrified about the difficult life her daughter would have to live because of her sexuality. She was asking what she could do as mother, to help her daughter have a happy life. So, do you understand what a poem can do? There was a queue of people waiting to congratulate me. It was unbelievable for me, as it was so difficult to go on stage and perform this poem. There was this period that I was thinking that society is getting better regarding gender and sexuality matters, but I was living in my bubble. The same period there were many incidents of LGBTQ+ hate and I thought that it was important to write something about it. And I wrote the truth. My truth, which I thought could be the truth of many people. So, the truth is what people want to listen, and the truth in this poem was my kind of salvation as well. In this poem I criticize the society and my own family. I try to explain the everyday life of a homosexual person and you can see there is nothing good in there, because the good parts of our lives that make us happy, we are used to hide them from the society and our families, in order no to be judged. I want to show that we are fed up of being judged, of not feeling safe. I say that our murderers are the religions that they want us to believe in. This is a very strong verse for some people to hear, like other verses at the end of the poem. People feel guilty when they hear these verses, and poetry has this strength. To awake people. But then I think that the people that we really want them to listen to these stuff, they are not there, they are not in the audience. That´s why video poetry is important. Because maybe by coincidence, some of them will listen to us. They will maybe put a hate comment, but maybe some of them will really listen to us. It wasn’t easy to write this poem and work on it and it’s never easy to perform it. I hope one day it will not be needed to perform it again.

the truth is what people want to listen, and the truth in this poem was my kind of salvation as well

How can you determine and describe the “social jail” that you speak about it in your project?

As I said before, we are used to hide ourselves from the society. It’s something normal for us and we fight every day to accept it. The society we live in, is like a jail in which there are the social accepted people in the yard and we are in the cells. It’s a jail for all of us though. There are the people who have “cigarettes” because they have connections with the society and the people who have to fight for a “cigarette” and have to prove somehow that they deserve it. Social status is very important. When there are countries that women have to be hidden under their clothes, women who have to suffer clitoridectomy, children who have to work to survive, what can we say? There are prisons that are better than others, but we are all behind our railings, trying to enjoy the time we have left. And for some people this is extremely difficult.

What are the radical gestures, strategies of art intervention operating today?

As they say, art alone cannot change the world. What artists of all kind try to do, is to open creative spaces and try to bring there as many people they can. Or better, as many minds they can. I think performance of any art is the best way to bring people together. People have no time to read, they read in the train, which I suppose is something that connects reading with leaving. The friend and the foe of art is marketing. Poetry is strong because people are scared of the words. Underground art is strong because people are scared of the ground.

“Radical is something you can’t hide,

like change for example.

Strategy is normally a state of mind,

like waking up kind of thing.” 

If the mainstream accepts activism thru art and other stimuli, would activists reject this acceptance because it has become mainstream?

Nice question. Well, it’s all about visibility I guess. Activists wouldn’t reject visibility, as without visibility no change is possible. If we accept that mainstream is popular and activism is in fashion nowadays, then they are meant to meet somewhere at some point. 

Poetry is strong because people are scared of the words. Underground art is strong because people are scared of the ground.

How your life experiences influenced your aesthetic style?

Well, life experiences is the most important factor in everything we do. I grow up in a middle class family, my parents didn’t even finish school, and they don’t really understand what I do. So they prefer to keep a low profile on my artistic career. They don’t ask many questions, they just know that I do “something”. I left Greece when I was 24 year’s old and went to the UK where I lived for 4 years and then moved to Barcelona in Spain where I live for 14 years. Having lived in 3 different countries and worked with people from all over the world, of course is a big influence on everything I do, as I have 3 cultures inside me, plus the cultural influence of the people around me. I think that made my mind to open and see art from different points of view. I’ve done courses of creative writing, performance, dance theater, photography, video editing, music production and maybe more I don’t remember. Emotional and mentally, I have been in love in an obsessive way, then in a healthy way. I have been in depression and under medication for a couple of years and then I have been ok for ten years straight and then being able to control my mental health a bit better. I’ve been poor for long periods of time and then better, but I never cared about money. I have been attacked by homophobic people and seen my self scared on the pedestrian. I have partied a lot and I have written and performed a lot. Lately I have one leg half paralyzed by a nurse’s mistake and trying to deal with it. So, yes, all these go to my writing and my interest on the art expression type is changing time to time. I always try to change my style, so I’m not bored of myself. The way I was expressing my self 5 years ago, has nothing to do with what I do today. Art gives you the opportunity to change.

How have other artists or art genres influenced your sense of aesthetics?

As I’m organizing various poetry performance based events in Athens and in Barcelona, I’m very lucky to have met artists from around the world and work with them. I have worked with musicians, dancers, painters, singers, actors and actresses, photographers, film makers, sex workers and each one of them have an influence on my art. Working with other artists is something that completes you and your work. From the musicians and dancers, I learnt how to add rhythm to my poetry and escape from monotony. From the painters I learnt that a small detail can change the whole emotion of your text and to put some light in the darkness inside me, cause if not, people will not be able to see my darkness. I have written a collaborative text and performed a duet with a sex worker, in which we criticize the masculinity in our society and a society without human feelings. She made me say the word “dick” so many times, and when we presented it, all the people from the audience would come afterwards to us and say “dick” without giving any power to the word itself. She managed to teach me how not to have fear to the words and she made work with my bias. Her name is Lena Chen and her alter ego is Elle Peril. My collaboration was with her alter ego. I can say that she is the one who has influenced my sense of aesthetics more than anyone else. Her art is very important to me. She starts from knowing your body. She does trauma healing through the body and she is into rituals with other artists. When we combined poetry with her art, it was like an out of body experience. Her texts and performances are from another world. I have never learnt how to play any instrument and this is something that makes me mad. Pianists and violinist makes me write from the bottom of my shit. They make me cry. It is definitely very important to see other artists work if you wanna improve your art. 

What are your future plans?

Give me something that I could be lost with and I promise you, I would sacrifice my serenity to be free.

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