An Introduction to… Spoken Word

Alex Webb discusses the rise and rise of spoken word as a poetic form, and introduces us to some key figures doing the speaking rounds on the internet…

For me, spoken word is the original way poetry was meant to be presented. Like I’ve said before, reading a love poem makes you understand the poet’s heartbreak, but hearing it brings the love affair into the room. To deprive yourself of this experience is to hide yourself away from the raw and intricate potential of our language.

Having reviewed Rudy Francisco’s Getting Stitches, I was inspired to write a dummy’s guide to spoken word poetry. Before going further I must note that spoken word is different for everyone, there are a huge variety of performers bringing different kinds of poetry and literature to the table. Finding your style in this relatively unknown genre is just an hour’s YouTube-ing away. For the mean time, however, I’ll introduce you to what can be best described as the political and love spoken word.

Some key names to get used to in this area are Sierra DeMulder, Alex Dang and the previously mentioned Rudy Francisco. These three artists are my main sources of inspiration when the proverbial “muse” has gone away for a few days. Alex Dang’s pieces are so powerful as they come directly from his personal experiences. He writes what he lives and this is a powerful tool in a spoken word artist’s kit. I found Dang through his ‘Times I’ve Been Mistaken for a Girl’, a heart-breaking commentary on gender roles and homophobia. Dang effortlessly gets into your head and makes you sympathise with his story, he is baring his life – and demands that you listen.

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On the theme of homophobia, Denice Frohman tackles the same issues from a lesbian’s point of view to much effect in her ‘Dear Straight People’. Whilst I am not a fan of her aggressive tone, Frohman’s powerful voice will make you re-consider your attitudes when she exclaims ‘I don’t like closets, but you made the living room an unshared space/and now I’m feeling like a guest in my own house’. But Frohman is not about telling people off: she speaks in order to discourage people from making ignorant remarks that can upset your gay friends and colleagues without you realising. When you listen to her words you can sense the years of oppression the LGBTQ community has faced and are continuing to make a stand against.

Sierra DeMulder is my personal favourite both in print and on stage, her ‘Paper Dolls’ is one of the most powerful spoken word pieces I have ever heard and offers something similar to Francisco’s ‘Monster’. DeMulder’s works include a variety of political poems that confront the skewed views of a society that does injustice to a lot of communities. In the aforementioned ‘Paper Dolls’, DeMulder evaluates the attitudes we have towards rape victims, noting that “the person who did this to you is broken/not you”. When she states that one in three girls will be sexually harassed in their lifetime, and that she is one of three daughters, you can feel the pain and fear in her voice. Listening to this piece makes clear that rape is something that can happen to anyone, it is everyone’s duty to fight against it. The contrast between DeMulder’s political pieces and her love poetry is shocking, my favourite poem of all time, her ‘Unrequited Love Poem’ will have you ready to cry as she preaches “I dream of you/more often than I don’t/my body is a dead language/and you pronounce/each word perfectly”. Her voice embodies empathy in this piece and, regardless of your relationship status, you become DeMulder in this piece. You wear her experiences as if they are your own and they become realities that most of us do not want to face.

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The final spoken word artist, Rudy Francisco, is by far the most talented of those discussed here. Last a few seconds into his videos and you will fall in love with his voice and be ready to spend hours listening to more. Francisco’s ‘Honest’, mentioned in my review of his collection, comes to life on stage and when he says “Dear hands, I know you like writing poetry/but you can’t bring a metaphor to a gun fight” you can see the weakness in his eyes. Francisco challenges a lot of assumptions, both in regards to politics and love and, even if it is just for a second, you will re-evaluate your opinions. In ‘Scars/To the New Boyfriend’, everyone who has been dumped and quickly replaced will hear this piece as gospel as he crawls into your head and captures your feelings perfectly. If you only listen to one poet mentioned here I beg you, make it Francisco. He’ll make you want more.

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If you are interested in seeing spoken word in the flesh, check out Manchester’s spoken word talent for yourself and head down to M20’s new Free Verse night every other Thursday. This night is focused on showing off the musically influenced side of spoken word and offers a fresh interpretation of spoken word as a whole.

Overall, spoken word is a beautiful art and has been underappreciated in recent years when it is so readily accessible. If you have read poetry and it has not taken your fancy give it one last chance when it is spoken to a crowd with the artists wearing their hearts on their sleeves. It is a phenomenon you will not want to miss.

-Alex Webb

Other brilliant spoken word performances and artists worth checking out:

Mike Rosen: ‘When God Happens’

Rachel Wiley: ’10 Honest Thoughts On Being Loved by a Skinny Boy’

Tonya Ingram & Venessa Marco: ‘Khaleesi’.

VIDEOS:

Alex Dang – ‘Time I’ve Been Mistaken for a Girl’:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U2i-i8k6AbQ

Sierra DeMulder – ‘Paper Dolls’:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kvxQnT9Luqk

Rudy Francisco – ‘Honest’:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pbgssX-uj4E

Denice Frohman – ‘Dear Straight People’:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5frn8TAlew0

Mike Rosen – ‘When God Happens’:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2Ks06Al8c0

Sierra DeMulder – ‘Unrequited Love Poem’:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41rQ8SufgOU

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