What is Spoken Word Poetry?

Willie Perdomo
Originally uploaded by geminipoet

I found myself having to answer this hundreds of time. My usual answer is “Every poem I read aloud is spoken word poetry, and every poem I write down is page poetry.”

A standard response that I hope tries to dispel the tropes connected to “spoken word” and (hopefully) begins a conversation around the oral/aural aspects of poetry.

I don’t know if I always do a good job in trying to create that dialogue and help the curious individual flesh out their expectation for “spoken word” poetry, but I do push them to read and listen to poets who successfully bridge the divide between “poetry” and “spoken word.” One of those poets is Willie Perdomo.

Willie’s ability to enrapture an audience, any audience, with a straight forward style that involves sitting down on a comfortable stool, reciting the work straight from the book, and letting the deep narrative descriptors, captured conversations, and the musicality of his verse, do the work has been the measure I’ve aspired to for years.

For a little more thought on his writing process and his personal definition of spoken word, check this interview.

[haiku url=”http://www.arts.cornell.edu/reading/perdomo300807.mp3″ Title”Writers at Cornell: Interview with Willie Perdomo”]

MP3 is courtesy of the Writers at Cornell blog.

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  1. It’s always cool to hear Willie’s voice talking theory and such, but the problem here is that the spoken word thing seems to be all the interviewer wants to talk about. I really think it only got interesting toward the end, when Willie is getting into the themes of the books. Y’know…talking about his actual writing instead of being forced to explain this ridiculously manufactured dichotomy between “spoken word” and “page poetry.” Willie does a good job trying to redirect the interviewer’s energy, but it’s clear what the guy really wanted to talk about.

    Here’s a question I’d prefer to ask the next schmuck who asks me about spoken word: What do Bob Hickok, Ada Limon, and Major Jackson have in common? Answer: They all got their start doing something called “spoken word.” But no one refers to them by those roots. I wonder why.

  2. Maybe because they don’t include it in their bios?

    I’m looking at how the bios of Patricia Smith, Bob Holman, Tyehimba Jess, Lucy Anderton, Tara Betts, and even yourself (to name a few and definitely not all) make a point to mention their connection with spoken word.

    You can also add the “spoken word” label to every poet who participated in the 1973 Flor y Canto and the poets from the Aloud anthology while you’re at it.

    To go back to my first point, I should change up my own bio to include mention of my roots in open mics and slam. It’s a journey that I am very proud of.

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