Spoken Word Poetry

I have never been a fan of poetry. I could never make much sense of it. I could never pin point what the poet wanted to say. There was always an ambiguity in poems that made it pretty hard for me to make much sense out of them. I would think that the poet was talking about nuclear bombs and then I would find out that the poet wrote it as a ballad for a deceased friend! I had always wished that someone, probably the poet herself be there so that I could try to decipher her emotions and get a better idea about what she had written about.

Then I came across this video[1]. A person was speaking, no, not speaking, he was orating! He wasn’t orating just any speech either, he was narrating his own poem! It was unlike any recitation I had ever heard. He wasn’t just monotonously vocalizing those lines. The emotions were pouring out of  him. The poem was coming alive! Of course, the animation in the video didn’t hurt but still there was something about the way he enunciated those words that made a much deeper impact than just reading that same poem would have. I had just heard my first spoken word poem.

Spoken word is a performance artistic poem that is word-basic.[2] Spoken word poetry focuses more on the words themselves, facial expressions and gestures, but most of all on the tone dynamics. A good spoken word poem depends as much on the poet’s facial expressions, gestures, improvisation and word play as it does on rhyme or a specific metrical composition. This form of art has existed since the ancient times, with the Greeks even having it in their Olympics. The modern spoken word’s origins were during the Harlem Renaissance. The current form is a result of a conglomeration of many different genres.  In the past couple of decades the form has become so prevalent that competitions called poetry slams have been organised. Since this from of poetry is meant for the audience it is a lot more “in your face” and more aggressive than traditional forms of poetry.

This kind of poetry has recently been gaining a lot of momentum as a means of propagating ideas about a myriad of subjects. It provides a beautiful medium to express ourselves and each and every emotion of the poet is felt and understood by the audience.  It is the way that the poem is spoken out loud that adds a lot of meaning to it. If the poet is passionate about the poem, you can just feel the rest happening. The poet’s attitude while performing also adds a lot to the performance.  Further since this form of poetry offers the ability to be very expressive and since they have such a widespread reach, they are used extensively as a medium of commentary about taboo subjects in the society like sex, gender and religion among others. It is also used as a way to spread awareness about various social stigmas.

Technology has played a major role in the spread of spoken word poetry. Sites like YouTube have helped in making more people aware of such diverse forms of art and inspired many to try their hands at it. In the ancient times there was no printing and whatever written text existed was rare. So people used to have poetry in a oral format, much like today’s spoken word poetry, or should I say that today’s way is like that of ancient times. We as a civilisation started out with oral poems and after a long time we started writing it down. Today we have slowly started moving back to the older ways. If this movement gains more steam it may even replace traditional forms of poetry and the internet will play a major role in this transition.  Technology is definitely taking us forward, but spoken word poetry goes on to show that we are probably going back to our roots.


1. Shane Koyczan -To This Day Project: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ltun92DfnPY

2. Wikipedia – Spoken Word: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spoken_word

3. Some other notable spoken word poems.

Kalki Koechlin’s expression on womenhood.

15 Spoke word poem’s you will love.


4 thoughts on “Spoken Word Poetry

  1. Akshar,
    Talking about spoken word poetry, I find it fascinating too. The first spoken word poetry I came across was Sarah Kay’s “To my daughter”. It left me spellbound.
    These days, I’m starting to enjoy conventional poetry as well. It’s not like I understand what its all about. But sometimes I feel you don’t really need to know what the poet actually meant. It is you who has to explore the feelings those poems evoke in you, and come up with your own interpretations. That is the beauty of poetry. The same poem would mean different things to different people. So, the nuclear bomb thing you mentioned is only natural! Good poems are those which give you that creative freedom. 🙂

    1. I am trying to, I’ll probably get there one day. 🙂
      And I figured that part about creative freedom, never been able to use it. Maybe I’m not creative enough to do anything like that. I’m working on it, will get somewhere someday. 🙂

  2. Akshar and Ammini, Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye are performance poets whom I like a lot. Their poem ‘When love arrives’ is a classic. I just wanted to add to this, a link to one of Kamala Das’s conventional poems, read out by her to an audience in Montreal. This is not Spoken Word per se, but still it is worth listening to.

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