A Note on Spoken Word Poetry

Spoken word is a performance art that is word based. It is an oral art that focuses on the aesthetics of word play and intonation and voice inflection. It is a ‘catchall’ which includes any kind of poetry recited aloud, including hip-hop, jazz poetry, poetry slams, traditional poetry readings and can include comedy routines and ‘prosemonologues’.    –Wikipedia

While “spoken word poetry” encompasses a lot of styles, the poetry slam concept is a modern re-interpretation of spoken word that is popular within youth artist communities. The poetry slams themselves are competitions with a series of elimination rounds, where artists get up to read or perform their pieces. Audience participation is crucial. Slam poetry is a combination of poetry, theater, performance and storytelling (2017, Poetry Foundation). The lyrical style of slam poetry is often reminiscent of hip-hop, in that it emphasizes the narrative content through voice inflection and emphasis on certain words.

Here is a wonderful resource for spoken word poetry events/poetry slams around the Twin Cities.*

Another excellent resource for spoken word from up-and-coming generations of youth, high school and college students is YouthSpeaks. Click the link to view their YouTube page, or go to YouthSpeaks.org. They host an annual festival called Brave New Voices.

A performance group that has made headlines through the Brave New Voices festival is Los Angeles-based Get Lit; members Belissa Escobedo, Rhiannon McGavin, and Zariya Allen have performed their poem, “Somewhere In America,” on many news programs and daytime talk shows.

*Guante is a very well-known spoken word artist in the Twin Cities; he’s based in Minneapolis and is one of the masters of the craft. Here is a list off his resources page of other spoken word poets.


Author’s Note: In slam poetry, there are common themes of social justice and analysis/criticism of social issues through a personal lens. Many poetry slam artists are also self-proclaimed activists. Subsequently, a majority of poetry slam pieces lean political in nature, and/or cover topics that may be sensitive for some people.

About Jen Lynn Anderson

Writer, dreamer, imagination junkie. Joyously fumbling through life, looking for the right words.
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