1: Audio recording, sam sax’s “Lisp,” 2018.
Spoken word poetry is an ancient discipline with roots in West Africa and in Ancient Greece. In its modern form, spoken word is often traced back through its foundation in contemporary music to the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance, the blues, and the Beat Generation of the 1960s, and the rich literary and musical heritage of African Americans. In a broader sense, however, as the term references any kind of poetry recited aloud, spoken word is much older than the written word because the poet existed long before the printing press. Oral traditions were, after all, the first kind of historical record available to human beings, and making history into songs and poems made it easier to remember for the next generation.
Suggested Activity: Listen to the poem once, asking students to pay attention to the overall feeling (tone, volume, rhythm, pauses) of the poem rather than focusing on the specific words or content. Then, distribute a written copy of the poem and ask students to follow along as they listen to the performance once more.
Ask students to reflect on what they gained or lost by first listening to the poem without reading the text. And what did they gain or lose by then reading the text along with the poet?
Ask them: In the performance, what impact does the poet’s delivery, intonation, and emphasis on certain words have on your understanding of the poem? In the written poem, what impact do the capitalization, line breaks, and visual shape of the poem have? Ask students to consider which form of delivery—written or spoken—they think is more effective and why.
The poem posits that “sound shapes how we think about objects.” Does sound shape how we think about poems? Do you think about the poem differently when it is spoken, instead of written?