A beginner's guide to spoken word poetry
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If you don’t think poetry is really your thing, you’re not alone. Verse, couplet, enjambment, pentameter: the impenetrable speech of old duffers in ruffs, and a whole lot of compulsory school exams to go with them. How about Martin Luther King, Damon Albarn, Mike Skinner? They might not sound like obvious names to pull out of the poetic canon, but they’ve all utilised a form of poetry that has come, variously, to be known as slam or spoken word.
What is it?In many ways, spoken word existed long before written poetry. Essentially a spoken art form, poetry became popularised in written forms with the invention of the printing press, but spoken traditions continued until American poet Vachel Lindsay advocated for its resurgence as an oral art in the early 20th century. Today, “spoken word” has come to be associated with a spoken form of poetry or free-verse reading that focuses on intonation and variations in rhythm, speed and inflection in order to create contrast and tension – usually along a through-line narrative, or theme.
Sounds hardTo write – yes; to enjoy – no.
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