England is a nation with a rich and expressive heritage; the country proudly stands at the forefront of literary advancement and with that in mind, let me introduce you to the world of performance poetry. Sheltering loquaciously beneath the umbrella term of 'spoken-word', this is a forward-thinking genre that shuns restrictive rules and is all encompassing in its content. Much like stand-up comedy, the witty wordsmiths that populate this lexical realm vary in great degrees by expressing a diverse range of views, emotions and life experiences.

       Tainted by antiquated taboos for far too long, a new-age movement has burst from the underground to rewrite people’s perceptions about live poetry nights. Infusing expressive delivery with snapshots of comedy and thought-provoking material these charismatic performers are blowing the cobwebs away word by word. To quote ‘TheSpeakersCorner.co.uk’, spoken-word poetry “is a rebirth of artistic, vocal wordplay that can have as much in common with Hip-Hop as it does Shakespeare”. This eloquent art form often blends elements of poetry, music and storytelling in a melting pot of creativity.

       Modern spoken word poetry first emerged during the ‘Harlem Renaissance’ that thrived in 1920’s New York. Initially used to battle racial discrimination and political disillusionment, performance poetry has since grown into an invaluable platform where all aspects of society can be scrutinised. Returning to English shores, the 'spoken-word' scene has flourished in recent times with popular ambassadors such as Scroobius Pip and Kate Tempest leading the charge.

       In a 2011 YouTube video from 'Don't Flop' – a famous 'rap battle' league in the UK – a young rapper by the name of Blizzard went up against the performance poet Mark Grist. Moulded around a ‘teacher vs. pupil’ parody, the video soon went viral and with over two millions views it signifies a huge step forward for 'spoken-word' into mainstream consciousness. Nationwide, cities are building up their own poetical establishments although London (especially the Eastern side of the city) still enjoys the greatest presence. Huge leaps and bounds have also been made in Bristol, my hometown, with the famous Old Vic theatre throwing their full support behind the 'Word of Mouth' turned ‘blahblahblah’ events. The charismatic Byron Vincent invites national names to the Old Vic’s lyrical basement theatre every month.

       The best thing about ‘spoken-word’ poetry is that it's only truly understood when experienced within the live spectrum, under the spotlight where rules fall to the wayside allowing perceptions and boundaries to shift in the blink of an eye. The poets are taking over and as Gil Scott-Heron stated in his iconic 1970 spoken-word masterpiece, "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised", so stand up and spread the word!


Alex Saunders

Photo: Darren Paul Thompson


This article was originally published at 'BackPax'