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thoughts on spoken word poetry or poetry slams

I have mixed feelings about the current infatuation with this type of performance. Firstly, it is not actually new but has been around for centuries in the form of theatrical monologues or soliloquies. Secondly, while my first exposure to it was exhilarating, it soon became formulaic in that it almost always seemed to be self affirming and prideful which after a while got boring and redundant. On a positive note, as Ms. Kay has said, it is relatively easy to access and allows for a great deal of confidence building on the part of the participants which is particularly useful for teenagers and young adults. thanks

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    Aug 1 2013: just to be clear, 'spoken word poetry' and 'poetry slams' are not the same. A poetry slam is a contest between spoken word poets with (generally) scoring and a token prize, whereas 'spoken word poetry' is the art form. There are hundreds of performances of spoken word poetry weekly around the country and around the world with varying levels of skill development displayed - as in any other art form. Yet, the point of spoken word poetry is that it is not to be judged (unless you're in a 'slam'). It is a personal expression. It is your voice spoken and heard. It is a venue where all can be heard, and all voices matter. Because we all matter. So while some develop greater skills (like family members), it is not the skill set that determines your success, but whether or not you have the courage to reveal yourself, and voice that which otherwise you would not.
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    Aug 1 2013: I've enjoyed them but gone sporadically. I saw one in a laundromat, one on a train car while we were going down to the Watts Towers in South Los Angeles. I generally found that the group that followed them was quite nice, perhaps they're more literate and sensitive than the average person.
  • Aug 1 2013: Looking at your link and reading the comments I decided to use bing to try to find the recorings again of so many people doing Dylan Thomas's Do not Go.........................

    Poetry is a personal thing.
    • Aug 1 2013: I do love that poem. And I think personal expression is important. And while everyone should be valued, not everyone's utterances are of the same value. Not everyone is a Picasso or Dylan Thomas.
      • Aug 2 2013: Good I just agree that as i get older I appreciate poetry more.
  • Aug 1 2013: Thanks for the info, What I was actually thinking of was Russell Simmons def jam poetry which I had seen first on HBO and then on broadway. And yes we all matter, but art is not judgment free and if all art is valued equally then the applause becomes meaningless. Similar to standing ovations for mediocre performances. Not everyone is good at everything and very few are great at anything. It is possible to be critical and discerning and still value people for who they are.
    • Aug 31 2013: You are absolutely right about this! I am a program director for a nonprofit that uses spoken word to promote literacy, build confidence, and self-expression. But this sub-genre of poetry (like poetry itself) is an art. In like manner, there are some parts that can be taught, but there are some components that are intrinsically developed as a result of personal experience and innate talent. As I tell the kids I work with, anyone can rhyme words or count syllables to form a haiku, but not everyone can create a piece whose content, word choice, emotion, and performance inspires. I followed the Russell Simmons poetry and still follow Brave New Voices competitions every year. I loved most of it but not all of it. While it has its place in the arts, it is sometimes overdone. The focus should always be the content: the idea or emotion that is woven into the piece and conveyed to the audience. I can't say how many slams, open mics, and showcases I've been to where I have had to remind people of this. Its the same problem that I have with main stream rap. It sounds good on the surface. Often gets a standing ovation. But it has no real content, no substance. So to me, its not art. Just noise. Here is a poet I love.