It might sound like stating the obvious, but spoken word poetry has been around forever. Before pen and paper were a thing people were using the catchy rhythms and clever sounds of poetry to engage and impress their audiences.
But there’s been a sudden spark in interest in recent years that’s seen people from all different economic and educational backgrounds tune in to slams and download performances. Here’s why, and how to get involved.
WHAT IS IT?
Although all poetry’s born to be read out loud, spoken word poetry has a specific style that’s unlike any of the sonnets or ballad’s you’ll have come across in GCSE English. Most pieces of modern spoken word poetry are heavily influenced by the Harlem Renaissance, blues music and the Beat Generation. Poetry slams, events where performers compete to win a prize (like a rap battle for poetry), became popular in America in the 80s and Youtube and TV have helped to spread the craze worldwide in recent years.
Spoken word poetry often includes a lot of internal rhyme, alliteration and repetition to make sure the words pack a punch. A spoken word performer is rarely stood still: their hand gestures and the way duos or teams interact with each other are as much a part of the poem as the words are. And don’t expect to sit and listen in silence: at a spoken word event if the audience aren’t cheering and whooping at lines that particularly hit home, you’re probably doing it wrong.
WHY IS IT SO POPULAR?
Spoken word poets often take to the stage to share their views and personal experiences of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia, fatphobia, mental illness, and all sorts of other issues. Using pretty words to talk about ugly subjects is one of the best ways to make people listen.
Spoken word poetry is so exciting because it’s real and raw. The poems are memorised and often improvised on the night: there are sometimes stumbles and slip ups as the poet races to get the words out. It’s an incredibly accessible form of poetry:
WHERE CAN I FIND IT?
Listening to artists like Listener, Levi the Poet and Hotel Books on Spotify is a great way to introduce yourself to the style while you’re on the go. Button Poetry’s Youtube channel is one of the best spots to find clips of poetry slams from across the world. Here are some of my favourites:
If this small selection leaves you wanting more, websites like writeoutloud help you to find poetry events in your area, where you can either sit back and listen to local talent or ask for an open mic slot to have a go at reading some spoken word poetry yourself.