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The Power of the Spoken Word

08/07/2012 09:15 am ET | Updated Oct 07, 2012

I can appreciate a good poem. Even in the beginning of my high school years, while everyone else groaned when our English teacher announced we would be doing a poetry unit, I eagerly read Robert Frost and Maya Angelou. But for me, nothing written on a page can compare to the art of spoken word.

Spoken word is just what it sounds like: poetry designed to be read on stage. Its origins can be traced back to the Harlem Renaissance movement. Today, spoken word is performed by people of all ages, races and walks of life, and their poems are just as diverse.

As a performance art, spoken word requires a more complex skill set than written poetry. A command of the English language is obviously necessary, but the ability to convey emotion to the audience is just as, if not more, important. Spoken word also has musical influences; the "flow" at which the poem is delivered is reminiscent of some of the best rappers.

Spoken word poetry can tell a wide range of stories, from personal narratives to social justice rants. The loose guidelines of the art make for very candid poems, with the speaker free to voice their opinions without regard for the status quo. This genuineness makes for very hard-hitting performances; a five-minute poem can be packed with emotion even in such a short amount of time. Spoken word can also provoke reactions within the audience. Contrary to the cliched image of apathetic snapping after the poet has finished speaking, certain parts of the poem can often evoke appreciative claps and shouts from the crowd. However, the interactive (and sometimes rowdy) atmosphere surely does not detract from the depth of the poem. The fact that the poet is reading their own work also strengthens the poem's message. There is no debate about whether the poet meant this or that -- you can see the anger in their eyes or hear the sadness in their voice.

A well known spin-off of spoken word is the poetry slam, an event at which various poets read their work and are scored by judges. This type of poetry is especially popular among teens, especially in urban communities, as a form of creative expression.

I love to watch videos of spoken word performances in my spare time -- here are a few of my favorite poets:

Sarah Kay was the first poet I stumbled upon while browsing YouTube one day. A woman of Japanese and Jewish descent, her poems usually involve personal accounts sprinkled with vivid imagery. She is also the founder of Project V.O.I.C.E., an organization dedicated to using spoken word to inspire youth.
Favorite poem: "B"

Buddy Wakefield, a veteran poet, heavily influenced the modern poetry slam movement with his boisterous style. He is the first poet to win the Individual World Poetry Slam Championship two years in a row.
Favorite poem: "The Information Man"

Kai Davis is a teen who uses poetry to voice her uncensored thoughts on life. Her poems concern the various issues of youth, African Americans, and women.
Favorite poem: "F*ck I Look Like" (contains profanity)