After the launch of Pakistan’s first national slam in 2016, the Pakistan Poetry Slam competition 2018 has expanded to Lahore, Karachi, Islamabad and Faisalabad in its third year. This year, Zainab Z. Syed and the Executive Team Shamain Haque, Mahroosa Raza and Zain Syed have combined their various experiences in the arts and education sector to develop an innovative poetry slam competition. The dynamic team has been preparing for it since the summer of 2017, which was made possible through the generous donations of people from Pakistan and across the world. Behind it all lies WORD Ink; an educational social enterprise founded by internationally renowned poets Zohab Z. Khan and Zainab Z. Syed. WORD Ink projects create safe spaces for students to engage with their surroundings in a more constructive manner. Through tools for self empowerment and self articulation, peers and communities are connected as they individually and collectively respond to the violence and security threats around them through non-violent means of expression. The creation of Pakistan Poetry Slam seeks to bring poetry, and the phenomenon of mushaira back to the mainstream instead of the fringes it is found on today. A poetry slam is a widely popular form of competitive poetry. Each poet has 3 minutes on stage to present a pre-written poem to ‘wow’ their audience. The poet then gets scored by 5 random judges from the audience and the highest score wins. All works must be original and no props or costumes are allowed. The third annual Pakistan Poetry Slam was held at LGS Defence Phase 5 and hosted by co-founder, Zohab Khan. This year, Orooj Zafar was crowned Slam Champion The finalists from each city were chosen at qualifying slams held all over the country in collaboration with The Last Word and LUMS – FemSoc (Lahore), Spoken Stage and T2F (Karachi), FAST University (Faisalabad) and Islamabad Pappasallis (Islamabad). The third annual Pakistan Poetry Slam was held at LGS Defence Phase 5 and hosted by co-founder, Zohab Khan. This year, Orooj Zafar was crowned Slam Champion – she describes herself as a “twenty-something 4th year medical student, poet, performer and motivational speaker based in Islamabad, Pakistan. I love animals to the point of euphoria, my cat Kiwi and baking cookies.” To discover more about our young Champion, we asked her a few questions about life, poetry and more. How did you come to write poetry? I came to poetry a little bit by surprise. Everyone in my family has studied local literature and music and it was no surprise that I proved to be my grandfather’s granddaughter. His death made me want to start writing again because he once experienced post-MI amnesia and when he recovered, he went into a writing frenzy, terrified that he’d lose his memory again. I first got published at The Missing Slate when I was fifteen and then got very lucky very fast and developed an impressive resumé full of writing accolades. What kind of themes do you explore in your poems, and why? Mostly themes surrounding and exploring trauma, mental illness, healing, meditation and allopathic medicine practices in their relation to trauma. I’m enthralled by the human brain and heart and their resilience so I never adhere to these themes but they come across in my work because of me standing and watching in complete awe of the human condition. What inspired you to write the winning poem and what does it mean to you? It came to me a few weeks after the worst few days of my life. I made a permanent decision that by some stroke of luck didn’t see fruition so that poem marks the beginning of my healing, hopefully finding meaning in my existence (which I chronically find pointless, even though I make art almost ironically to immortalise my voice). It means to me what air does to a person who nearly drowned. As a published poet of the page, what is it like to perform your poems? Entirely different from actually writing these poems. I am a very present poet on stage, completely in my element. People often ask me, “where did that voice come from?” Because my stage presence is the most confident, bare-boned, heart-wrenchingly honest me. I’m either completely myself or the best version of myself. What was most memorable about being a part of Pakistan Poetry Slam 2018? The crippling anxiety every time someone had to pick a name out of a hat! Haha, but apart from that, feeling so close to each and every finalist, knowing them so, so intimately because of their honesty and that transaction of vulnerability. It’s something I’ll never forget. What does it feel like to win the title of Pakistan Poetry Slam Champion? Unreal. I still haven’t internalised it fully, and to be the first woman to have won, it feels so even more. I’m just unbearably full of gratitude that I was alive to witness a validation and acknowledgement so great. It’s truly an honour and responsibility that my mind and body are still registering. Published in Daily Times, April 30th 2018.