You’ve written a poem on paper. Anyone can read your poem, but if you deliver it to them, you can be sure that it’s read it the way you meant to be. This is where the art of spoken word performance poetry comes in. Spoken word is an art form that uses body language, rhythm, slang, word play, improvisation, and vocalizations to convey the meaning and tone of a poem and to immerse the audience in the performance. The main purpose of spoken word is to convey a story to an audience in a way that completely immerses them in your experience. Spoken word can be a very rewarding experience for both the poet and the audience.
How Did Spoken Word Start?
Spoken word has roots in not just poetry, but also music, theater, and dance. Although many ancient cultures have practiced forms of story-telling that are similar to spoken word, the spoken word form that we are most familiar with today originated in Harlem during the 1960s. The convergence of the Harlem Renaissance, blues music, and beatniks all helped to produce this emotive form of performance. The underground African-American literary group “The Last Poets” helped to contribute to and popularize the rich art form of the spoken word. Today, spoken word has influenced many other art forms, such as hip-hop, rap, and slam poetry.
Tips for Performing Spoken Word
- Tailor your poem for performance. When writing your poem, keep in mind that you will be performing it in front of others. Try to use emotive, expressive words that will really make your audience see, hear, smell, and taste what your poem is about. When choosing a topic for your poem, pick something that you feel strongly about. You want to be able to get swept up in your art, which means screaming or whispering or doing whatever your emotions dictate at the time. Your audience will find a poem without attitude to be boring.
- Poetic devices. You want to work in some poetic devices to keep your poem interesting and your audience engaged. This is where wordplay is useful. You can also try repeating certain words or phrases for effect, using alliteration for emphasis, and rhyming for flow.
- Practice your performance. The last thing you want is to get on the stage and suddenly feel your stomach drop, your mouth become parched, and not be able to deliver. Before going onstage, you should practice delivering your poem as much as possible! This can be with your family or friends, or just by yourself in front of a mirror. Keep in mind that you may have a big audience, so projection is key to making sure the people in the back can hear you. You can try some voice exercises and tongue twisters to exercise your voice and diction. Also remember to keep up eye contact when delivering your poem. Try as they might, no one will be able to get drawn into your world if you are staring at the floor the whole time. The more you practice, the better you will be at delivering a meaningful spoken word poem!
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