Slam poet Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa on how she became an artist and a champion of the spoken word
The message is always in the medium, 21-year-old Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa got her message across beautifully in her fierce spoken word poem for Australia’s Got Talent stage (in 2016). A poem that got four yeses for Sukhjit from the judges, but more importantly got its point across so beautifully that several audience members were in tears.
“When you’ve been given such a loud voice, you need to speak up for the voiceless. Humour and satire; that’s the thing Australia uses to get the messages across,” said spoken word artist in an interview after she stood up and displayed her “talent” — that of being the voice against racism.
Since that performance a year ago, Sukhjit has been delivering electrifying performances that have inspired many people.
How do you define poetry?
Something from the heart, authentic, honest and relevant.
What does “being creative” mean to you?
Being free to express myself. Having the space and time to do it and constantly growing from and evolving my art.
“I feel in this current state of the world, we have been taught to suppress that freedom to express”
Your performance in Australia’s Got Talent was widely appreciated. Did you expect this kind of overwhelming response?
Not at all! I thought my poetry was for brown hairy legs and brown hairy girls alone! I also thought the racists of the world would be after me! But instead I got a lot of love. Little did I know I’d be getting messages from people from the randomest parts of the world saying that they could relate. That’s why I feel it’s necessary to speak from your heart and speak your mind (and sometimes acknowledge when you are wrong) because you have no idea who you could be inspiring around you.
Who inspired you to become a poet?
Sarah Kay was the first spoken word poet I had ever heard so she introduced me to this world. However I feel what inspired me to write my first poem was actually the anger and hurt I had towards certain issues I’m passionate about. Channelling that anger into poetry was really important for me. And is really important for me.
Do you believe poetry is important? If so why?
Yes absolutely. Not only is poetry important but artists and art are too! We’ve forgotten our ancestors were artists. It’s in our blood to be creative. To question. To shit stir. To create. But I feel in this current state of the world, we have been taught to suppress that freedom to express.
“When inspiration comes it comes at the worst time! When I’m driving on the freeway and I can’t pull over. When I’m in the shower”
Do you have a particular venue to write your poetry?
I’m bit of a naughty poet in that I’m not as disciplined as many of my peers. Because of all the projects and work I’ve immersed myself in I barely have time to write which is super sad. But when inspiration comes it comes at the worst time! When I’m driving on the freeway and I can’t pull over. When I’m in the shower. When I’m just about to fall asleep. When I’m at a classical Indian concert and it looks super rude to take out my phone and write. I wish I had a routine or had the time to go on some writing retreats to spend some time with my art form.
Your favourite topic?
I don’t think I have a favourite but I can’t ever properly plan what I’m about to perform or speak about at a gig as it’s all about the vibe. How I’m feeling. How the audience is feeling. What boundaries I feel like pushing through. How vulnerable I want to get. So each audience receives a different side to me.
Spoken word videos have been widely appreciated on social media. Do you believe social media is a tool to find your poetry audiences?
Social media is a great way to connect with people and share and learn however as a woman that also means you have to deal with trolls and violence and sexually abusive comments. So as long as you’re taking care of your mental health, social media can be an amazing tool.
“My message isn’t about igniting anger in those who have ever received discrimination in the past. My message is about igniting passion to make a positive change”
Tell us about your process: Pen and Paper, computer, notebooks … how do you write?
I usually write when something happens to me or I hear something or there’s been a repeated theme occursnce in my week/month. Then I usually rant to my friends about it on text. We talk it out and then I copy and paste that convo in a word document a couple of days later and start thinking of ways to make it more poetic and aesthetically pleasurable to the ears. I do like pen and paper however I can barely read my own handwriting when I’m in a rush so when I have inspiration I quickly write it on my phone then transfer it to the word doc.
What are you trying to communicate with your art?
My message isn’t about igniting anger in those who have ever received discrimination in the past. My message is about igniting passion to make a positive change. Standing up as a Sikh with Sikh values and a Sikh upbringing and using those tools to help those who are marginalized. Those that are constantly discriminated due to their religion, gender, race, sexuality, disabilities etc.
Any upcoming performances?
I’m heading to the US till the end of Aug to do some performances and events there. When I return I will be back into coordinating Common Ground, a multilingual multi-faith spoken word workshop series run by a Multicultural Arts Victoria. If you want to be part of some free spoken word workshops get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ve also just launched a new activist apparel store with a friend called Hysterical. You can find us on Facebook and Instagram.
Excerpts from Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa’s spoken word performance on Australia’s Got Talent.
“My people, the Sikhs, came here in 1860 with camels and carts and courageous hearts and look at the maxi Taxi, we’re still driving and steering this country in offices and hospitals and even on stage.
So when people tell me and my family to go home to where we came from, I reply with a smile, tongue-in-cheek, ‘mate, we’ve been right at home for the past 150 years!’
I’m not the one that’s a freak, I’m fully Sikh.”
Connect with Sukhjit Kaur Khalsa on https://www.facebook.com/sukhjit.khalsa; https://www.facebook.com/sookjeet; https://twitter.com/sukhjitkhalsa
Photo credit: Valley People Studios