The Art of Spoken Word Poetry. Part 1: History

The Art of Spoken Word Poetry
The Art of Spoken Word Poetry

As implied by the title, in this medium the poetic words are spread out loud. It must be distinguished from written poetry because the viewer’s/reader’s experience varies drastically; while in written poetry the reader gets to interpret the words individually as well as attribute such tone and mood to the poem that suits their perception. In spoken word poetry, it is the performing artist that creates the atmosphere. They get to employ voice inflection, intonation, pace and pauses (which can be a very powerful tool if used appropriately) to communicate their feelings and beliefs to the audience and help them experience the piece of art in a way the artist intended.

It is fair to say that spoken word poetry is the oldest form of poetic expression; people felt the need to express their feelings and thoughts long before writing was invented. In Ancient Greece, spoken word poetry was one of the most respected artforms, and great thinkers and artists used to put constant efforts into finding men who were capable of remembering and suitably communicating the beauties of their culture and country through poetry. This type of poetry was highly popularized during the times of Troubadours, who moved around and spread the word about the extraordinary nature of distant lands, their broken heart or some other cause they saw as worth exploring using artistic expression.

In terms of the modern times, the so called “spoken word movement” has two points of origin. First, a lot of credit must be given to a Welsh poet Dylan Thomas, an outstanding performer of poetry who had the opportunity to tour the US in the early 1950s. His performances were so powerful that two people got inspired by his readings and started a poetry recording company called the Caedmon record company. Dylan Thomas’ readings were their first recording! Needless to say, this caused a great deal of interest into the artistic capacity of spoken word poetry and attracted a lot of attention. The second influential force that must be mentioned is the 1950s movement known as The Beat Poetry movement. Thanks to this movement started by Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti among others, the stereotypical image of a poetry reading at a bar or cafe where people smoke, wear berets and snap their fingers instead of applauding came to be.

Later on, in the late 1960s, several groups under the name of The Last Poets arose from the African-American civil rights movement. The groups used spoken word poetry and music as a way to promote their political ideals and beliefs. Originally the name “The Last Poets” was used by Felipe Luciano, Gylan Kain, and David Nelson. However, the groups that left the most significant imprint in the pop culture were those led by Jalaluddin Mansur Nuriddin and Umar Bin Hassan. With its dedicated and politically charged texts, powerful rhymes and determination to raise African-American consciousness, this movement is known to be the roots of hip-hop. Their most recent release is an album called “Understand What Black Is” and it gives tribute to artists such as Biggie Smalls or Prince.

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