Spoken Word

Here is a colelction of information about the literature of spoken word, from oral traditions to slam poetry, and beyond. Know something that should be here? Please share it in the comments.

What is Spoken Word?

Spoken word is a form of literary art or artistic performance in which lyrics, poetry, or stories are spoken rather than sung. Spoken-word is often done with a musical background, but emphasis is kept on the speaker. One of the most common sorts of spoken word performances is performance poetry, where a poet either reads previously-published poems, or reads poems specifically written to be performed aloud. Another kind that has gained popularity in recent years is political and social commentary, done in such a way that it is, while still prose, somewhat more artistic than a typical speech. Spoken word artists are often poets and musicians. Spoken word gained notoriety in the late 1980s and early 1990s through the emergence of “poetry slams,” where spoken word artists would square off in cabaret-style duels. wikipedia

Three Basic Types of Spoken Word Performances

Lets not get bogged down with taxonomy, but I think it would be fair to acknowledge some various “types” of spoken word poetry. Musicians like to have genres to describe what they do, and to distinguish themselves from others. Spoken Word performers feel similarly. Here are some. There are others, like stand-up comedy, storytelling, and so on, but these are some poetic examples.

Recorded Poetry

What I call “recorded poetry” is recorded works by the so-called “major poets”, or recordings by poets who are primarily poets-in-print. For better or worse, this kind of spoken word usually sounds to an audience like being read to, because that’s what it is.

“Spoken Word”

Contemporary Spoken Word, generally defined , is the term given to this visceral, in-your-face style of contemporary poetry of the nineties was spoken word.


Hip-hop is unique among the types of spoken word, for its use of rhythm, abundant rhyming, and for its very inventive use of words: made-up words, recycled words, slang words, etc. Some people, notably one random teenager, seem to think that there is a difference between “hip-hop” and “rap”, the crux of the distinction being the literary merits of the former over the latter . What are the literary merits of hip-hop? Read an essay entitled reverse-gentrification of the literary world, which is the preface of a book byMiles Marshall Lewis.