Spoken Word: The Magic of Live Poetry

According to Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas “Poetry is what in a poem makes you laugh, cry, prickle, be silent, makes your toe nails twinkle, makes you want to do this or that or nothing, makes you know that you are alone in the unknown world, that your bliss and suffering is forever shared and forever all your own.” Granted the greats have their right to define it as they may, in fact everyone does, but I’ve always felt that in the right light, in the right setting almost everything is poetry.

Poetry is more than rhyme schemes and seamless recitation. Even the alphabet is poetry, even your exam answer sheets are poetry. (For some, it literally is). And why is it even important, you ask?

Well, the very existence of this form of expression and the sheer variety of poetry and its themes speaks volumes about the human need for expression. Not just any expression, and not in just any way. We find ways that get across to every single person, because what we feel is common to all of us.

From poetry in music, to poetry in dance, poetry takes many forms one of which is the very popular and very powerful: Spoken word.

Here’s a look at popular artist, Phil Kaye-

Spoken word is literally, poetry that is written on paper, but performed for an audience. There’s a certain artistry involved in spoken word. It’s not a dull monologue, nor is it just emphasizing at the right places. It’s a culmination of highs and lows in your tone, a powerful rendition of your words in any way that you want to. Rhyme or meter are not restricting factors, as spoken word performers use music, movement and expression, slang and alliteration, creating a mind-blowing sensory experience through the simple act of speaking.

Neil Hilborn on OCD:

Arguably the oldest from of poetry, spoken word finds its roots in Ancient Greece. The true birthplace of modern spoken word or slam poetry, was the Harlem Renaissance (1917-1935), which propagated that creation of art and literature would uplift the Negroes.  Art, culture and expression had a free reign to explore newer, bolder themes, to draw upon personal experiences to revolutionize music and poetry. Cutting edge jazz and funk, coupled with writings during this movement provided space for open discussion on alternative ideologies ad politics.

Continuing in the same vein, poetry was immersed in yet another radical vein called The Beat Generation. Harboring minds like Kerouac, the Beat Movement was an American social and literary movement originating in the 1950s. The movement advocated personal release, purification, and illumination through the heightened sensory awareness.Beat poets sought to liberate poetry from restricted academic and elitist influences and bring it “back to the streets”. To progressive jazz and percussion beats, this poetry was chaotic and structured, but most importantly free.

Modern day spoken word draws upon all such influences growing to become poetry that’s about more than expression or self-indulgence.


These performances have become a platform to speak openly and unabashedly about social issues in cultures across the world, about experiences that affect each and every one of us. Racism, feminism, objectification of women, rape, depression, words upon words that wield true power.

On racial oppression:


On depression:

On objectification of women:

Performance poetry has gained recognition on a global level with competitions on regional and national scales. TED, with its ideas worth sharing has also caught onto the wave, with performances by the magical Sarah Kaye and brilliant Shane Koyczan.

Poetry which transcends previously constructed stereotypes and barriers, is fast becoming a preferred medium for up and coming writers, students and artists alike.

Spoken word encapsulates a true freedom of expression. Words and performances that change your outlook and open your mind for the exact intended purpose: To think, to feel, to express, to exist beyond our own self.

If poetry resides in everything, we can all be poets. This time, let’s try it the spoken word way.

P.S: If anyone out there wishes to obsess over this art from as much as me, I would be more than grateful. I’ve saved all of the amazing pieces!



By Manvika Athwani


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