I’ll be honest with you.
I have a very complicated love/hate relationship with spoken word poetry.
In the sense that I love really good spoken word.
And that I absolutely hate, loathe. despise really bad spoken word.
And unfortunately, the vast majority of current spoken word is really really bad. So I hate more, and nowadays, hate by default.
BUT…there are a few glimpses of hope. Some rays of sunshine. Some good examples that, I don’t know if it’s because of the muck that they are surrounded with or the true merit of their extraordinary talents, really do blow my mind.
When I was first introduced to spoken word I was just in awe of the emotion and animation that spoken word poets brought to a normally quiet and subdued art. Poetry was something you wrote and read in your mind, or in hushed tones, or in quiet circles. It wasn’t the outraged, excited, enamored, depressed, wildly gesticulated performance art that these young writers were using to talk about things like racial representation, love, and society.
What has happened nowadays to spoken word is the same thing I fear has happened to art and other more…’subjective’ matters. We gave too much power to the creators and too much leeway to ‘creative license’. We lost the standards of measure. All save a few that were recommended to me by a blogger friend are examples from the early 2000s or so, when I feel there was still some structure and expectation of spoken word. Yes, it is a style that allows the writer to go beyond standard conventions, and to impart and convey much more emotion and volume, but it was still something that had to be held responsible to some sort of measure. Topics were diverse, meaningful, and investigated with different voice and perspective. You could still, behind the performance, behind the movements and the volume, find the cadence and measure and reason behind what had to originally be first and foremost, a good piece of poetry.
Spoken word is poetry. And poetry has mechanics. It has structure. And from that structure, we can better measure and understand and appreciate the skill of the artist. These poems, on paper, would still be beautiful. Would still have that sharp repartee, like fencing with words. There’s cleverness and skill and incredible ways of dancing with words and meanings. There’s deep, meaningful, relatable emotion. These poems have to work as poems, after all. To me, spoken word is just another tool, another style, and one particularly appreciated because it gives more power to the author to direct and influence its meaning and understanding. How could we have known how this was supposed to be read or performed or what to stress without the performance aspect of it to then elevate what is already a functioning, fully appreciable poem, to the level of spoken word art piece.
Spoken word isn’t about how loud or angry you can be. But unfortunately nowadays a lot of spoken word is more about very angry, very misunderstood, very noisy people who look to ‘spoken word’ as an umbrella term to give them free license to yell and stomp and rage at the perceived slights society has given or not given them. In a very complacent, relaxed, too-correct world, we let go of the standards and structures that, though present were never so rigid as to prevent artistry and creativity, and focused so much on ‘attempt’ and ‘meaning’ that we forget ‘delivery’ and ‘form’. It ruins an art form that never really got to shine in its Golden Age because while it was trying to find itself and define itself, it got derailed by other people’s agendas. Which is a shame, because I do think spoken word can be a great instrument and tool for connection, understanding, and change.
I’m not saying that matters and subjects these days are any more or less legitimate, or that taking up these causes isn’t any more or less pressing and responsible for society. But do you notice the difference between all four of these examples? They’re all different topics, different deliveries, but all very much still, poetry. Now when I look at spoken word, I hear one voice. And it’s yelling and loud. One topic. And it’s usually just being angry at social justice. One style. It’s like an old record player getting fried and just repeating itself over and over. The original song may have been beautiful, but the record is so scratched and so deeply etched on the same chord that it’s become a cacophony, a horrible screeching noisy one tone yell. And that’s really a shame because I was really ready to see spoken word blow up and be celebrated. I mean come on, we had an HBO series on this! We need to bring back SOME rules, SOME conventions, SOME standards. We can’t just keep giving participation medals and good humored applause. We’re talking about the legitimacy and survival of an art form here people!
I’m not a spoken word kind of person. I can barely write a poem to begin with. But I know there are people out there who could be truly great at this. And I don’t want their voice to be lost in the crowd. And I want to know people can recognize the examples that are worth taking the time to appreciate.
Man: 253 Loneliness: 33