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On Spoken Word Poetry

By Grace Darko, VI Form

On Spoken Word Poetry

Before I start, here are some of my favorite spoken word pieces: one by Loyce Gayo and a few by Kanye West.

Spoken word poetry is the lovechild of rap and free verse. She definitely had an identity crisis and couldn’t decide whether she should speak in verse or in prose. But, it turns out her audience is multilingual, so she never really had to choose. She instead takes from both parents, honoring them by presenting the best of both worlds.

I was introduced to spoken word in my later years of elementary school. My brother had recordings of performances from the show called Def Poetry Jam, hosted by rapper Mos Def. Each episode of Def Poetry Jam was an oral anthology of poems with no particular order, and the show includes poetic performances from popular singers and rappers. It was amazing to hear some of the performances. Up until middle school, I never saw the video recordings because I only listened through my brother’s mp3 player. Yet, when I finally looked at the tape, the experience was even better than just the music.

Spoken word is a conversation. When I listened to recordings, I could see in my head how the audience was responding; some snapped, but others clapped because the poetry was just that good. Numerous performances required a call and response, and some connected so well to the audience that people answered in agreement. Other solicited silence, signifying the utmost emotional impact. The audience is a part of the poem; the performer and the listeners become one.

There are conversational factors that feel forced in some forms of poetry but come freely in spoken word. In other subgenres, the meter of each line can be constricted, following regular standard lengths like the infamous “iambic pentameter”; however, in spoken word, there can rhythm without the meter. I once performed a spoken word, and some unaware listeners thought I was rapping. What they neither realized nor cared about was the fact that, of the 100 lines, only two lines rhymed, and there was no singular meter. They were lost in the natural rhythm of the poem and so was I.

I want to further explore spoken word poetry by actively studying these poems from performers of different backgrounds. I want to learn exactly who their audience is. Because not every poem matches well with every group of listeners, I want to study the dialogue that can make or break a good performance. I want to review poetic devices to ensure that I can appreciate the poem, interpret the words, and understand the narrators to the fullest extent. Finally, I want to continue to write and perform more works of my own. Spoken word poetry isn’t only a performance, it is a conversation. And I yearn to begin conversing with my audience. When they leave the room or close the laptop screen, I want people to continue to think deeply about the ideas and emotions that we explored in the poetry.

 

Image Source: http://events.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/display.cgi?comp_id=44573:20161019170000


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