The Rhythm of Spoken Word Poetry


Spoken word poetry is a form of literary discourse focused on the aesthetics of word choice, intonation, and vocal inflection that manifest through the articulation of verse.   From its beginnings, poetry was lyrical, and it has of late been returning to a more oral aesthetic. Acting as a liaison between music and poetry, spoken word necessitates listening, memorizing, and reciting, with a focus on language well known to any accomplished lyricist.  

Spoken word pays close attention to sound structure by looking for aural patterns and rhythms, making it easier to commit to memory than other forms of writing. Based on this assumption poetry – verbally expressed poetry in particular – is meant to be heard, like music. Using euphony and/or onomatopoeia, verbal poetry originates from oral cultures where proverbs imparted systems of beliefs and cultural attitudes for listeners. In many cultures, drumbeats matched oral poetry and expressed its rhythm in a way similar to music. In Ancient Greece, Greek lyrics, a form similar to spoken word poetry was even featured at the Olympic games, like musical entertainment today.

Later, Futurist and Dadaist spearheads used sound poetry to bridge the gap between intellectual and artistic composition by replacing words with sounds. These innovators removed words from verse, exemplifying the way poetry can pay as close attention to sound as its musical counterpart.

Spoken word is actually rooted in our intrinsic makeup. According to Pinksy Robert, “the hearing knowledge we bring to a line of poetry is a knowledge of a part of speech we have known since we were infants” (Robert, The Sounds of Poetry: A Brief Guide). Hovering somewhere between poetry and literature, spoken word continues as a union of the two and an independent artistic expression.