(Out)spoken poetry

The spoken-word movement brings images, messages and actions back to the community.


Najiba Abdellaoui | September 2005 issue

The DJ calmly adjusts his knobs while music thunders from the speakers to a packed audience waiting for the show to begin. Welcome to an evening of poetry. Welcome to the Poetry World Slampionship to be exact, where eight poets from as many countries meet in in the Netherlands at Rotterdam’s Schouwburg Hall for a battle of words. Silence falls as soon as the first poet takes the stage. Forgotten are the jury, time limit and other rules of the competition, because on stage the only thing that matters is poetry, verse after verse.

With their (out)spoken messages and images, these artists convey a wide range of ideas and emotions. They are the polar opposite of the clichéd poet who lives as a hermit and only ventures into the world to share the fruits of his soul with a rarefied group of devotees at poetry readings.

The poetry slam—a mixture of reading, performance, competition and literary jam session with the audience—was created to remove poetry from such artsy straitjackets. The slam concept, conceived 20 years ago in Chicago by poet and construction worker Marc Smith, has since gone global. Nowadays, slams are held from London to Cape Town and the Poetry World Slampionship and National Poetry Slam have become internationally known events.

Worldwide, thousands of young poets scour the Internet and local newspapers looking for open stages and poetry evenings that will give them a chance to bring their poems to life. Many of them will likely never see their poems published in poetryslam collections like Listen Up! (One World Books/Ballantine Books, 1999) and Bum Rush the Page (Three Rivers Press, 2001). But a poem that has been heard, that has been applauded and has evoked images in the minds of listeners under the direction of the poet herself has claimed a place in literature, even if that placenever is documented on the printed page.

Spoken word—that grey area between traditional poetry and rap—often gives voice to those lacking political or economic influence. These are mainly young people from diverse cultural backgrounds who use their voices and pens to describe the space between propagated dream and harsh reality. Whether you’re at the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York, Festina Lente in Amsterdam or a popular spoken-word café in Canada, Hawaii, Mexico or Sweden, you’ll hear similar stories using different words about globalisation, overconsumption, war, cultural suppression, injustice and greed.

Although these topics often sketch a dark global image, many spoken-word artists play active roles in their communities. They might try, to inspire passion and inspiration using creative volunteer projects for the young and disadvantaged. The Palestinian-American poet Suheir Hammad, for instance, regularly visits Palestine to offer art workshops to young, often disabled, children, providing them with a little hope. So spoken word is not just about expressing yourself and stimulating the listener’s imagination, but about promoting positive actions.

Purists raise their eyebrows about the competitive character of a poetry slam. But the way the competition is set up is meant to make poetry accessible. It is a game in which every poet is a winner because he or she gets an audience. Obviously, the quality is not always top-notch, and the work often watered down to appeal to diverse audiences. But that is what spoken word is all about: sometimes mushy, often not, but truly moving and real.

Web sites describing spoken word: www.poetryslam.com, www.livepoets.net, www.slampapi.com

Solution News Source

(Out)spoken poetry

The spoken-word movement brings images, messages and actions back to the community.


Najiba Abdellaoui | September 2005 issue

The DJ calmly adjusts his knobs while music thunders from the speakers to a packed audience waiting for the show to begin. Welcome to an evening of poetry. Welcome to the Poetry World Slampionship to be exact, where eight poets from as many countries meet in in the Netherlands at Rotterdam’s Schouwburg Hall for a battle of words. Silence falls as soon as the first poet takes the stage. Forgotten are the jury, time limit and other rules of the competition, because on stage the only thing that matters is poetry, verse after verse.

With their (out)spoken messages and images, these artists convey a wide range of ideas and emotions. They are the polar opposite of the clichéd poet who lives as a hermit and only ventures into the world to share the fruits of his soul with a rarefied group of devotees at poetry readings.

The poetry slam—a mixture of reading, performance, competition and literary jam session with the audience—was created to remove poetry from such artsy straitjackets. The slam concept, conceived 20 years ago in Chicago by poet and construction worker Marc Smith, has since gone global. Nowadays, slams are held from London to Cape Town and the Poetry World Slampionship and National Poetry Slam have become internationally known events.

Worldwide, thousands of young poets scour the Internet and local newspapers looking for open stages and poetry evenings that will give them a chance to bring their poems to life. Many of them will likely never see their poems published in poetryslam collections like Listen Up! (One World Books/Ballantine Books, 1999) and Bum Rush the Page (Three Rivers Press, 2001). But a poem that has been heard, that has been applauded and has evoked images in the minds of listeners under the direction of the poet herself has claimed a place in literature, even if that placenever is documented on the printed page.

Spoken word—that grey area between traditional poetry and rap—often gives voice to those lacking political or economic influence. These are mainly young people from diverse cultural backgrounds who use their voices and pens to describe the space between propagated dream and harsh reality. Whether you’re at the Nuyorican Poets Café in New York, Festina Lente in Amsterdam or a popular spoken-word café in Canada, Hawaii, Mexico or Sweden, you’ll hear similar stories using different words about globalisation, overconsumption, war, cultural suppression, injustice and greed.

Although these topics often sketch a dark global image, many spoken-word artists play active roles in their communities. They might try, to inspire passion and inspiration using creative volunteer projects for the young and disadvantaged. The Palestinian-American poet Suheir Hammad, for instance, regularly visits Palestine to offer art workshops to young, often disabled, children, providing them with a little hope. So spoken word is not just about expressing yourself and stimulating the listener’s imagination, but about promoting positive actions.

Purists raise their eyebrows about the competitive character of a poetry slam. But the way the competition is set up is meant to make poetry accessible. It is a game in which every poet is a winner because he or she gets an audience. Obviously, the quality is not always top-notch, and the work often watered down to appeal to diverse audiences. But that is what spoken word is all about: sometimes mushy, often not, but truly moving and real.

Web sites describing spoken word: www.poetryslam.com, www.livepoets.net, www.slampapi.com

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