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.
Brief history of Spoken Word in the 1990s
In the 1990s, the poetry scene in the United States saw an increased interest in spoken word poetry. This, however, was not the first emergence of spoken word. Spoken word, or poetry spoken aloud, was pioneered in the days of troubadours and storytellers who would recite their poetry aloud to gain recognition. It was not until the invention of the printing press that the emphasis on performance poetry shifted to publishing because of the possibility of increasing the works’ availability. Again, in the 1950s and 1960s, spoken word was revived. The Beats
began using spoken word to express their anti-academic beliefs, and their dislike of societal norms. Then spoken word slipped under the mainstream radar again, until the 1990s.
The strong, aggressive and, frank style of poetry in the 1990s caused for another surfacing of spoken word in mainstream society. Unlike The Beats, this emergence of spoken word was not necessarily politically driven. This movement focused more on increasing diversity among its performers, reaching out inspiring amateur practitioners, and sending messages of positivity and tolerance. In short, the movement was about bringing poetry back to the people. Poets such as Maggie Estep, Reg E. Gaines, Henry Rollins, John S. Hall and Dana Bryant each gained acclaim as spoken word artist as the art form made it to the television screen. MTV
took notice of this demand for spoken word entertainment in the mid 1990s. MTV created a television show “Spoken Word Unplugged” to showcase major talents of the movement, but the flame fizzled before a massive interest could take hold. Most of the performers of the generation have branched out into other fields, notably novel writing.
Comedians and other artists
Actors and actresses