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Spoken Word is Not POETRY.


Written by  William Saint George

This post is rewritten from a previous one that appeared on my personal blog. There, I tackled the general issue of art, but delved quickly into spoken word and poetry. The argument was spirited, quite hilarious to some people, and largely unguarded. In this rewriting, I will maintain my argument in the spirit in which it was put forth, but the views will be more balanced and wholesome to the general public. And so we begin:

I’ve not had the guts to come out with this statement yet, because my arguments were not fully thought out, and most people hate being told that their work is shoddy (crappy, actually, but we’ll leave it at that). With this in mind, I’ve kept my trap shut, but my eyes and mind open. Now, I can come forth and proudly say that I think little of Spoken Word “poetry”, that I condemn many artistes who pander their art in the good name of poetry, and generally do obscene things on stage and feel good about it. I’m not against all that, but certain lines must be drawn, in the holy name of art.

First, and most importantly, Spoken Word is not Poetry. That is an emphatic no to those who place the poetry tag on it. I’ve dwelt my thoughts on this issue, and have come to realise that though this art is the only stage genre that most closely mimicks poetry, it does not replace the written art.

Therein lies the true art in Spoken Word, the stage performance. Truth be told, it does something that poetry cannot do – it engages an audience in a moment of time, and holds their attention for the span of the delivery. A lot depends on the individual’s mannerisms, use of eye contact and such. Poetry exists on the page, or in the reader’s minds.

However, from all that we have seen, Spoken Word artistes are horrible poets. They know little of the written art, and slander its name by selling their art form as poetry. If you have read good poetry before, or if you’re used to reading excellent verse, you will find most written Spoken Word horrible. That is a fact that cannot be ignored, because these people do not know what goes into the making of poetry. At this rate, even rappers can call themselves poets. With that acknowledged, I can boldly say there is no art in the written Spoken Word. Nope. None can be found.

The meter is badly crippled, and the rhyme forced into a round hole. The only good thing to note about such poems is that most spoken word artistes (or performers, NOT poets) address social issues. That’s a good thing, but it is not through poetry. Spoken word is a modern performance art that unfortunately borrows the respected, high-brow (yes, it’s a high brow) air of poetry. Good poetry, that is.

Therein is the definition of the poetic art and the conundrum between myself and those of similar ilk, and the spoken word gang in that street corner. I cannot imagine a poetry reading where some youth come to protest about family rape and caring “this much” about others. Nope. It shouldn’t happen.

Those close to me will know that I am not favourably disposed to most spoken word. I’ll use this platform to say that I respect it as a separate art form, but it should not steal the good, respected name of the written art.

For some time now, I’ve felt bad calling myself a poet. When I reach that state, I know something is wrong. Spoken word marketed as poetry is bullturd. Ask any artiste to write a quatrain in iambic tetrameter, rhyming the couplets. Just do that to any typical spoken word artiste. You’ll see what I mean.

One form of verse, free verse, has given many people the leave to write anything and it’s a poem. Free verse does not require rigid meter, but it does require it.

If you do not care so much for the art, if you do not love the art so much that you are willing to spend several hours learning it thoroughly, and disciplining yourself to work with the limitations of it, if you only care for your ego on stage and the fans from an unlearned audience as you MC your way into their hearts, never, for the love of God call yourself a poet! Because you’re just a cheap fraud.

There are some who have passed a dragging monologue as poetry. I care “this much” for them. That is a stage art. It’s a monologue. It’s not a poem. Yet some have passed plain prose as poetry. Because it was a Christian show, they only cared about God, and I had to endure rotten prose as poetry. Some use non sequitur with reckless abandon, and call that poetry, making fun references to football teams and graphic sex. Someone did that.

And there’s that guy who names himself after rhyme or poet, most of which is amusing, but downright awful. He does quite well, but if he wants to call himself a poet, he must write good poetry. If they want to remain spoken word artistes, then they’re on the right track.

Poets, if this is what you call poetry, then I shall hide under my rock and write my verse in peace. And I will be the noble outlaw of that little, messed up world.







  1. It’s clear to see that the writer has more than a base knowledge of Poetry & its principles, i truly commd that.

    He believes the rules to the art must be adhered to and this generation of short-cuts apps & widgets should not apply that on the sweet maiden “Poetry”

    However, like it or not Spoken Word is Poetry!!!

    Before Man was inspired by written words, Man spoke those words.

    Ancient Greece/Rome had renowned men known for their Spoken Words used to inspire all, in times of war and peace.

    Hitler/Napoleon/Alexander the Great/Ojukwu even Mandela inspired nations to into deeds with spoken Words.

    So please send our condolences to the writer that, Spoken Word may not be as austere as the written Poetry, but it has every bit the strength to move mountains!!!

    Some Rappers are Poets, but not all Rappers are Poets!!!


  2. “some have passed plain prose as poetry. …Some use non sequitur with reckless abandon, and call that poetry, making fun references to football teams and graphic sex.”

    It is clear that the author of this screed suffered through his/her fair share of “slams”, where the quoted descriptions (above) are often found. Apart from my agreement with the first comment here (variation: all spoken poetry is spoken word, but not all spoken word is poetry).

    Spoken word is a form of performance art (the author gets this right), but it includes many “sub genres” — poetics, stand up comedy, narrative (story telling), dramatic monologue, etc… and yes, there are good and bad examples of all of it. Just like there are bad poems and good poems 9and many bad poems in which the author has ample use of meter and rhyme).

    As to ‘free verse’…it would not be “free” if it “required” meter…but certainly, using meter helps propel the poem forward; some structure (meter being the most basic form) is helpful (and helps people remember what is said (like rhyming)…but again.

    If poetry is indeed in the mind of the listener, then it is the listener who decides if it’s poetry, good or bad. In this sense, the opinion of the author of this post is valid, but only as that” one opinion.

    That said, this post adds nothing significant to the (public) debate/dialogue over spoken word v. poetry.

  3. Nah, spoken word is not poetry. Poetry, like any art, is learned not just practiced. Spoken word begs to be wholly understood and thrusts its sentiment at the crowd, while poetry asks that the readers be seekers. Good poetry will have deeper consequences on the readers’ psyche once understood. Spoken poetry pulls directly from stimuli to evoke a response. Poetry creates new stimuli, or changes the responses to stimuli.

  4. Interesting! The writer actually stated few facts + many things that could be called opinion… “I’m not against all that, but certain lines must be drawn, in the holy name of art…” Yes. There are Poems & there are Spoken Words. All Poems can be performed as Spoken Words, but not all Spoken Words are poems. Nevertheless, in the name of Creativity, let everyone do what they feel free to do & find their own voice via the vacuums of life!

  5. Thank God that someone place this in perspective. I was listening to a couple of different spoken word artist, and then the thought popped in my head. ” this doesnt sound like poetry, it sound like someone giving a lecture in rythmatic form.

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