What is Spoken Word?

The term “Spoken Word Artist” refers to and encompasses all artists/poets working in the oral tradition. This includes all Jazz Poets, Dub Poets, Hip Hop Poets, Sound Poetry, Slam Poets, Storytellers and Folk Poets. Spoken Word also includes poetry bouts.

Spoken Word poetry encompasses word, language,rhythm, sound, music, and beat. It is written and presented in the voice and tone of the people. It is for the people. It represents the community.

Although many Spoken Word Artists are published in the conventional book or printed magazine formats, much of their work extends beyond the boundaries of the printed page. Most Spoken Word Artists share the view that poetry must be read aloud, or lifted off the written page. In fact, all poetry must be read aloud.

Spoken Word Artists seek new and innovative forms to present their work, including new media. Word and sound help the artists fi nd new meanings. That said, it is important to recognize the historical context of Spoken Word, otherwise known as the oral tradition of poetry. Some claim the oral tradition originated with Homer, continued through to Shakespeare, Dadaism, Surrealism, and into the Beats. This is true for those of the academic persuasion, but the roots of the oral tradition originated in a diverse variety of cultures: African culture, Caribbean culture, North American Aboriginal culture, Islamic culture, Celtic culture, and every culture known to humankind. It doesn’t matter how you look at it, it is an unarguable point- Spoken Word is the oldest form of poetry. It is no phenomenon that poets who practice the oral tradition continue to contemporarizethe presentation of their work to keep up with modern movements.

At the end of the last century, Spoken Word developed a strong voice and a dedicated audience. Spoken Word Artists speak to the community about social issues in the language of the people, so it remains a popularized poetic form. Unfortunately the work of most Spoken Word Artists has fallen through the cracks of conventional literary institutions and in particular the academy. Because of their popularity and their need to strive for new and interesting methods of communication, Spoken Word Artists have been marginalized, ridiculed and held at bay from achieving any form of recognition or distinction for their poetry.

This genre of cultural diversity is developing at an accelerated rate. Reflecting this transition, a Spoken Word and Storytelling Program was initiated by The Canada Council for the Arts in 2000. This program provides funding for Spoken Word Artists to present the word inside the context of the oral tradition. This funding program provides funding for the Spoken Word Artist to present their work on new media formats such as CD, DVD, audio cassette, e-zine, and in Video formats (such as VideoPoems or “Shorts”).

Spoken Word Poetry has given voice to itself; a voice of astute technical variation, dimension and diversity. It is a revolution. It is the voice of our time.

One of the first things that every orator learns is that the speaker is only as good as his or her material.