It was TED’s fault. A couple of years ago I was trawling online for some generic ‘inspiration’, when I stumbled across Sarah Kay’s TED talk, ‘If I should have a daughter’. It was a revelation to me. I had always loved reading and writing poetry, but I had never before experienced spoken word poetry. I was instantly taken with the idea of poetry that, as Sarah Kay puts it, “doesn’t just want to sit on paper; something about it demands it be heard out loud or witnessed in person”.
Since then I’ve discovered, loved, been challenged by various spoken word poets. I particularly enjoy the Button Poetry channel, which adds a visual dimension to spoken word poetry through their Poetry Observed series of films (my favourite so far: Sam Cook // Flatland).
Last week I experienced spoken word in person for the first time at Apples and Snakes’ ‘451’ at Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre, which showcases local and national spoken word poets. Before the three headline acts, local poets could take part in open mic and I loved seeing different styles of performance as well as writing come through; the person with great comic timing to their anger, the woman who used silence as much as she used words… I will still make the most of the extensive archive of performances online but experiencing it in person brought another dimension again, a sense of solidarity with the poets. That by our very presence we are reinforcing the sense that they do have something to say. We’re here, we want to hear it.
The power of spoken word is not surprising. The written word spoken aloud has always been powerful. The voice of a parent making up a story is enjoyed for its intimacy and its entertainment. Even now my husband and I are slowly working our way through Kenneth Graeme’s childhood classic ‘Wind in the Willows’, taking it in turns to read aloud a chapter of those evocative descriptions to each other.
Spoken word wasn’t a revelation for its impact, but for the release that its discovery brought. By bringing together two things I’ve always loved – poetry and dramatic performance – a different experience is created. It seemed to validate the kind of poetry that I have written for years. Poetry that didn’t seem to look like the style I’d studied at school (where Robert Frost was the most contemporary poet we read). Poetry that required my voice not just in the composition, but also in its expression. It showed me that this kind of poetry was not just allowed, it was by turns good, powerful, funny, shocking, moving…
Whose spoken work poetry are you enjoying? Recommendations most welcome!
Sarah Kay’s poetry is brilliant when housed in print, but it seems wrong to just illustrate a post about poetry that has to jump off the page with a static photograph, so check out some performances here.
Today’s Soundtrack: Angel Olson // Burn your fire for no witness