Spoken word is a form of poetry that often uses alliterated prose or verse and occasionally uses metered verse to express social commentary. Traditionally it is in the first person, is from the poet’s point of view and is themed in current events. In entertainment, spoken word performances generally consist of storytelling or poetry.
It’s only now that these performers have been grouped together under one banner, making this a watershed moment for a type of act that has, for a long time, been described in terms of what it’s not. Not quite poetry, not quite comedy, not quite theatre.But one hallmark of spoken word in its broadest sense, and especially of shows by Wright and Grist, is that it treats poetry seriously, even when it’s funny. Spoken word is a clamouring ruckus of different personalities working to establish an identity.
What should I keep in mind when writing a spoken word poem:
Use of Concrete Language – Use words and phrases that project on the minds of the listeners vivid images, sounds, actions and other sensations.
Repetition – Sometimes just the repetition of a key phrase or image, with extensions of image and thought for each repetition, can help a writer generate exciting poems.
Rhyme – Rhyming can enrich your poems and performance if used with skill, surprise and moderation.
Attitude – Feelings and opinions are the “stuff” poetry is made of – Each poet has a unique perspective and view of the world that no one else has. It is important that a spoken word poem embodies the courage necessary to share one’s self with the rest of the world.
Persona – Spoken word poetry allows you to be anyone you want to be. You can write a poem in the “voice” of someone or something other than yourself or with a personality trait that is different from your own.
Performance – Remember, spoken word poems are written to be performed. After your poem is written, practice performing the poem with the elements of good stage presence in mind…
Memorization – If you have a poem memorized you can focus more on the performance of the poem. However, so far as performance is concerned, it is more important to “learn your poems by heart.” If you are really in touch with the meaning and the emotional content of your poem, even if you forget a word or a line you can keep going. Learning by heart allows you to incorporate improvisation (freestyle) into your poem which is one of the most important elements of spoken word poetry.
Sure, a lot of spoken word poems need to be heard several times to appreciate all the nuances of meanings. But its success depends upon being able to convey its meanings in a single performance.
While spoken word, like any poetry, takes on many different forms, it commonly relies on first-person narratives, or stories told about the poet’s personal experiences. But it can use any form of narrative, such as third-person stories about other people’s experiences or persona poems, in which the poet takes on the guise of a different person. While narratives are a common form, spoken word isn’t limited to just stories. Poems that focus on general observations about people and events are also common.
Spoken word simply doesn’t exist without a live audience. In that sense, it depends upon its audience in a way that written poetry does not. Slam, which is a popular and competitive form of spoken word, exemplifies this dependence. For a slam competition, random members of the audience are chosen to judge the quality of the content and the performance of the poems.
Because it is performed, this poetry tends to demonstrate a heavy use of rhythm, improvisation, free association, rhymes, rich poetic phrases, word play and slang.
The Beats were a non-conformist community of writers and poets that became famous in the post-war years of the 1950's and 1960's that consisted of Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, William Burroughs, and others. Railing against the academic world and society's norms, their poems were not only meant for publication, but also intended for performance. Indeed, the 1990's movement helped the Beats gain in credibility, with Ginsburg having a popular spoken word MTV video, Burroughs poeticizing in a duet with Nirvana's Kurt Cobain, and Kereouac having a tribute album that featured rock stars and actors reading his poems aloud (Appendix III).
The term given to this visceral, in-your-face style of contemporary poetry of the nineties was spoken word. Up until then, the term only described non-music sections in music stores that contained non-music comedy, plays, or famous speeches. In fact, there have been a number of issues with the breadth of the term spoken word, which The New York Times has called "pointlessly stiff," and the relationship of the term with poetry. For example, all poetry read aloud is spoken word, but not all spoken word is poetry. Sometimes, it is difficult to discern where spoken word ends and poetry begins.
It became a topic of fascination during the 1960s, when Beat poets such as Allen Ginsburg, Jack Kerouac, and William Burroughs incorporated it in their poetry readings and performances, drawing inspiration from African American and Native American oral artists, as well as the history of oral poetry dating to Homer. These Beat legends also inspired artists of the 1990s, who helped prolong the practice by paying homage to their predecessors. And, as mentioned above, jazz artists soon made space for it in their artistry, too. Questions about the classification of spoken word still arise, since certain academic circles are not always ready to accept it as "poetry," but it is nevertheless accepted by many as a form of literary performance art and an important vehicle for political, social, and cultural commentary.
In record shops, bookshops, and many other retail outlets, “spoken word” is used to indicate a range of material, from audio recordings of speeches and comedy routines to readings of novels and short stories. When it is used within poetry circles, however, it typically refers to the oral performance of poetry, stories, or other prose pieces. Spoken word poets align themselves more with performance poetry than with traditional poetry recitals, while the term “spoken word” has been used for several decades. It has become more popular with the rise of performance poetry, following the success of slam in the last decades of the twentieth century, and spoken word is increasingly being associated with performance poetry by individuals outside of the poetry world.
Spoken Word is a term adopted by academia (college circles) in the early 80's to recognize a wave of new word-based performance art that came springing out of the Postmodern Art Movement. Spoken Word was basically a catch-all category to lump together anything that didn't fit into the already well established categories of performance: Music, Theatre & Dance. Some word performance art had been around for eons— storytelling, sound-emphasis poetry, African American toasting, reggae rhythms… these forms just hadn't received much attention and suddenly the well-educated acknowledged the exclusion, suddenly people felt politically incorrect.
Spoken word is usually understood as a form of literary art or performance in which poetry, stories, and text are spoken rather than sung. Often associated with background music in a performance setting, spoken word can be improvisational or planned, and, although it is not sung, the prose of spoken word is usually more artistic than normal speech.
Spoken Word is a category of performance art to encompass any new seriously developed genre or traditional form that is primarily word-based & is not exclusively Music, Theatre or Dance but may include collaborations with other non-word-based art genres or works created in collaboration with artists from non-word-based disciplines.
Poetry has always been an oral art form, going back in history to the time of Homer reading "The Odyssey." Poets, storytellers, and other troubadours would travel from town to town, reading their work and getting their poetry heard. This oral tradition sprang from necessity, as it was not possible to print hundreds of copies of poems, and reading them aloud was the only method people could experience the works. With the advent of such technology as the printing press, however, the art form of oral poetry gave way to the more practical process for getting poetry heard: publishing the poems.