Spoken Word Poetry: ‘The performance becomes the final Amen.’


Spoken word poetry takes the art form back to its origins as oral storytelling with a dose of performance art. But when you turn it into a competition and pin poets against each other, slam poetry ensues.

On April 28 at 1:15 pm, the EPL and Edmonton Poetry Festival present an intimate conversation on the craft with members of the Breath in Poetry collective, a homegrown team of spoken word poets and national slam champions. The event is right before the closing event for Poetry Festival, a youth reading with spoken word poet Mary Pinkoski.

To whet your appetite, I asked BIP members and next week’s guests Ahmed Ali (also known as Knowmadic) and Titilope Sonuga answered a few questions about the art form.

How much of spoken word is about poetry and how much is about performance?

Titi: Spoken word is 100 percent poetry and 100 percent performance. The true mark of a great spoken word artist is someone who can make words move on the page and on the stage. Before a spoken word poet makes their way to the front of a microphone, they have done the hard work of carefully crafting the poetry. The performance becomes the final Amen.

Ahmed: Spoken word poetry is an equal balance of both poetry and performance. A great writer can draw out emotions from the audience regardless of their performance. Likewise, a poet with the stage presence of an actor, comedian or musician can place more emphasis on performance but still be an exceptional poet.

What’s been the highlight of your slam poetry and spoken word artistic career?

Ahmed: Becoming the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word Champion in 2011.

Titi: Getting to perform my work at the 2011 Chinua Achebe Colloquium on Africa, and meeting Maya Angelou last year.

Why do you think it seems to appeal more to young people?

Titi: There’s a lot of freedom in spoken word. You have the opportunity to experiment and to explore. There’s a kind of swagger that comes with being able to put words together in a way that is exciting to listen to. I would add that I’ve had great response to my work from a wide cross section of people. I think everyone can find a nugget of truth in spoken word, no matter how old they are.

Ahmed: Because young people are heavily involved. I am sure if young people were to perform written poetry, it would be appealing to the youth as well. However, spoken word has the ability to draw out emotions from people because it involves personal experiences and is heavily infused with emotion and expression.

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