Spoken word is poetry meant to be read aloud and in front of an audience. According to Power Poetry, spoken word forms include stories, monologues and rap, as well as poems. Performances are highly stylized compared to traditional poetry readings.
Spoken word artist Eman is quoted by About.com as defining spoken word as "a mix of poetic words, music and hip hop." It may also incorporate such performance-art forms as theater and dance, Wikipedia notes. Performances usually consist of the artists telling stories through their poems.
Although spoken word poetry is heavily influenced by the blues movement that spurred the Harlem Renaissance, as well as the hip-hop movement, the Black Youth Project notes that spoken word mimics 1960s beat poetry and its live, interactive and oral traditions.
According to Wikipedia, spoken word's popularity among college students during the 1980s constituted a "new wave" of performance art that emerged during the Postmodern Art Movement. By the 1990s, spoken word had grown in popularity among urban youth and morphed into a competitive art form called the poetry slam, which showcases spoken word artists. Slam poetry remains a popular spoken-word genre that gives young artists an outlet for the public expression of their ideas and emotions.