Academic Poets often criticize spoken word. They say that the reason why spoken word is not really poetry (or not as good as academic poetry) is because the emphasis is on performance. So the argument goes that since the performers are concentrating on delivery it must mean that they spend less time on their poetry. As if there was some finite amount of effort that you could put into your work. As if spending time working on the performance means that you don’t spend time on your poems. As if the audiences that judge a poems worth at poetry slam are somehow less intelligent or discerning then those people (all five of them) who buy modern poetry.
This is the pompousness of academia at its worst. The Academic bemoans the death of poetry, wondering if poetry will ever again be relevant to the cultural landscape, while at the same time refusing to acknowledge the legitimacy and artistic value of Spoken Word, marginalizing it as something less then true poetry.
Granted there are some Spoken Word pieces that drop elements of modern poetic language such as complicated metaphors and word play, because using an oral medium does not allow the audience the leisure time to deconstruct the work the printed page does. To illustrate my point here is a poem by Taylor Mali entitled: What Teachers Make.
It has plenty of similes but not a single metaphor. The similes are simple, to the point, and effective. If mark twain was right when he said “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.” How can we find fault with Taylor Mali’s word choices. His poem is relevant to our times in a way that Chaucer and Dante are not. The same way that Walt Whitman was relevant for his time and place, despite what the critics of his day thought of his poetry. If Taylor is not your cup of tea, and you believe that his piece is more akin to a speech then a poem. I would like to submit for your consideration the work of Andrea Gibson a poet from Boulder, Colorado. Her poems are rich with language and symbolism and more importantly passion. You would be hard pressed to find an Academic to argue that Spoken Word is not poetry after being exposed to this amazing artist.