Spoken word is often an unnoticed, underrepresented art form; is it poetry? Is it music? It’s hard for the uninitiated to tell.
As novice spoken word artist Billy Ferguson puts it, spoken word can be most simply defined as “emotion meets language.” Something even the most unpoetic and artistically-challenged of us can relate to.
“Spoken word is performance poetry,” elaborates David Silverberg, the founder and host of the Toronto Poetry Slam. “It’s not like written poetry where the reader can read at their own pace – it’s poetry without knowing what’s coming next.”
Spoken word, then, is not constrained by literary conventions,backbeats, or rigid rhythms; it’s expression in its purest, most fluid form. As such, it’s incredibly powerful.
“When I write and perform spoken word,” says Ferguson, “it’s as though I’m able to see into myself.” As an art form, he says, spoken word fosters the development of creative, philosophical, and emotional insights.
Even listening to spoken word can be a transformative experience. Just taking the time to really assess one’s state of being, regardless of whether it’s through one’s own words or another’s, allows one to experience the emotional depth and creative release that we as humans are capable of.
“Spoken word shows me that we all have a mutuality that is a part of our intrinsic human nature,” says Ferguson. “We all feel love. We all feel hurt. We all feel pride. We all feel hopelessness. When we find ways to express these feelings through spoken word, it shows us that all of our emotions, thoughts, and dreams can be broken down and shared with one another. We have the ability to share these things every day.”
Perhaps spoken word is what we as a society have been waiting for. Silverberg admits that spoken word is often overlooked, “especially by school boards,” but nonetheless, is an accessible art form — one that “might resonate more with kids than Shakespeare.”
In a world that can be as disconnected as ours, then, perhaps spoken word is what can reconnect us.
“There’s a rippling effect through Toronto,” Silverberg says, “We get 150 people at our monthly poetry slams now.” Slowly, it seems, more people are becoming interested in the art of spoken word.
When asked why, Silverberg says that spoken word represents “a truth that lots of people can relate to.”
Billy Ferguson agrees: the key is honesty.
“There are a lot of moments in life that we don’t want to be true,” he says, “things that we would rather hide away. While it feels ‘safe’ to cover these moments or feelings up, it’s not healthy. Spoken word is all about digging up the inner-most parts of your being, and sending them out to the universe. Sure, we may use metaphors to describe something that’s too difficult to be blunt about, but in the end the art form revolves around openness, and honesty.”
Spoken word, then, appeals to our deepest, most universal needs for truth, creativity and expression. It captures the essence of what it means to be human, and also what it means to be free. As David Silverberg says, “sometimes we just need to listen to one person with a mic, not a band or a fifteen dollar book of ‘literature.'” Sometimes, we just need to return to basics, pure and unrestrained. Spoken word does that.