Retaining Your Voice: Gowri Koneswaran Performs at Semester’s Final TerPoets

By Marlena Chertock

First published in The Writers’ Bloc.

“This next poem has an attitude problem. I have trouble reeling her in,” said spoken word poet Gowri Koneswaran at the last TerPoets open mic night of the fall semester on Tuesday night.

Koneswaran, who started writing in middle and high school, but only began writing poetry seriously in college, gave a spoken word reading of several poems full of attitude for over an hour.

A Sri Lankan poet, Koneswaran hosts and co-hosts several open mic nights in the D.C. area, including at Bloombars and the Busboys and Poetry‘s K Street location.

She writes a lot about her relationship and history with Sri Lanka (where her parents immigrated from), her father, her attempts to quit smoking, and love, or lack of it.

“This is a Message from the Emergency Broadcasting System,” her documentary poem about a war in Sri Lanka, was powerful, full of a raw emotion and sense of immediacy, as many of her poems are.

“Who’s going to tell these stories if we don’t?” she said.

Several veterans of the TerPoets open mic night scene read poems or performed their original songs. But many read for the first time, braving the room full of students and receiving applause afterwards.

During Koneswaran’s portion of the reading, she asked, “How often do you find yourself, outside of an open mic, being applauded, people just commending you for the person that you are?”

Open mics and writing communities offer a unique atmosphere that often welcome people of all backgrounds and interests.

“This is a useful outlet for students, a good release,” said sophomore Javier Vaca, who played guitar while junior Abisade Adepoju read poems at the Tuesday TerPoets event.

The featured writers expel emotions and ideas, like Koneswaran’s poems about break-ups. Normally, she writes about the crushing stage and then the heartache, but never the part of a relationship in between.

“I have zero tolerance for badly-crafted sex poems,” Koneswaran said while introducing her one poems about sex, a poem about making love to a poem. “Be a good poet first, don’t just go under the guise of poetry to get with the ladies.”

Koneswaran finds herself returning to themes or similar ideas in several of her poems, such as her background with Sri Lanka. She seems very sure in her voice, giving a sincere, and often humorous, reading of her works.

When she first started writing poetry and attending open mic nights, Koneswaran said she thought she wouldn’t read unless she sounded like other poets, “We all have the poets and writers and performers we gravitate towards. We tell ourselves, ‘that’s how I ultimately need to sound.’”

But she encourages young writers to listen and learn from other writers, not to lose their voice.

“No one can tell your story in your voice except for you.”

View more photos from Gowri Koneswaran at TerPoets here.

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Marlena Chertock

Marlena is a digital storyteller and poetry editor at District Lit. Her first poetry book, On that one-way trip to Mars, is available from Bottlecap Press.

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