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Spoken word

A broad designation for poetry intended for performance. Though some spoken word poetry may also be published on the page, the genre has its roots in oral traditions and performance. Spoken word can encompass or contain elements of rap, hip-hop, storytelling, theater, and jazz, rock, blues, and folk music. Characterized by rhyme, repetition, improvisation, and word play, spoken word poems frequently refer to issues of social justice, politics, race, and community. Related to slam poetry, spoken word may draw on music, sound, dance, or other kinds of performance to connect with audiences. See Murdoch Burnett, Kevin Coval, and Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz for examples of spoken word performers. For spoken word’s connection with music, see David Browne’s essay “Pop Star Poetics.”

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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