Performance Poetry in the USA


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Some notes on Performance Poetry in postwar and contemporary America

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Performance Poetry in the USA

  1. 1. Poetry of the USA since 1945<br />Some Notes on Performance Poetry<br />Sarah Law Poetry of the USA since 1945<br />
  2. 2. From Dana Gioia's essay 'Disappearing Ink: Poetry at the End of Print Culture'<br />Influenced by print culture's habit of silent reading and its typographical bias toward a text's visual identity on the page, contemporary literary poets often neglect or underplay the auditory elements of their verse. Too overt or apprehensible a verbal pattern seems old-fashioned to many poets. When they employ new or traditional auditory forms, they often tone down the musical effects by deliberately flattening the rhythms, avoiding end-stopped lines, and eliminating noticeable alliteration or assonance. If they venture rhyme, that most conspicuous auditory technique of verse, they often play it down as well by burying it in run-on lines or substituting slant and half-rhymes...The new popular poets, by contrast, flamboyantly display their metrical schemes. In the aesthetic of rap, for instance, the stronger the beat, the more extravagant the rhyme, the more elaborate the pattern skillfully deployed, the better the poem...<br />Sarah Law Poetry of the USA since 1945<br />
  3. 3. Performance Poetry<br /><ul><li>Performance poetry really begins with the performance of oral poems in pre-literate societies: repetition, alliteration, rhyme and rhythm aided memory. Each performer had a template on which to base their own version of a poem
  4. 4. In the early 20th c poets like Louis Zukofsky called for a renewed emphasis on poetry as sound. This attitude to poetry helped to encourage an environment in which poetry readings were fostered. This was reinforced by Charles Olson's call for a poetic line based on human breath.
  5. 5. The Harlem Renaissance and subsequent Black Arts Movement placed great emphasis on the oral tradition in poetry. </li></ul>Sarah Law Poetry of the USA since 1945<br />
  6. 6. Performance Poetry<br /><ul><li>The Beat Poets popularized the use of recorded media to distribute their performed poetry. Ginsberg and Kerouac both recited their work for audio recording. Ginsberg used music with his readings.
  7. 7. During the 1980s, the term 'Performance Poetry' came into popular usage to describe poetry written or composed for performance rather than print distribution.
  8. 8. e.g. performance poet Hedwig Gorski, whose experimental audio recordings achieved success on spoken word radio programs. She performed with her band, East of Eden Band; and claimed to draw influence from Ginsberg and the Beats, with whom she was associated.</li></ul>Sarah Law Poetry of the USA since 1945<br />
  9. 9. Subsequent performance – and 'slam' poets were more interested in small live audiences. Venues like Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York City<br />Sarah Law Poetry of the USA since 1945<br />
  10. 10. Poetry Slam<br /><ul><li>The Poetry Slam is a competitive live performance format founded by poet Marc Smith in Chicago in the 1980s . Bob Holman in New York supported a similar performance poetry event.
  11. 11. A poetry slam is a competition at which poets read or recite original work. These performances are judged on a numeric scale (1-10) by selected members of the audience.
  12. 12. Typically, poetry slam is highly politicized, speaking on many issues including current social and economic issues, gendered injustices, and racial issues. Poets are judged not only on the content of their slam but the manner of delivery and passion behind their words.
  13. 13. Since 1990 there has been a yearly National US Poetry Slam</li></ul>Sarah Law Poetry of the USA since 1945<br />
  14. 14. Bob Holman on the Slam Scene<br /><ul><li>'With tongue-in-cheek and competition itselfcompeting with irony and hype, the Slams have brought Whitman's 'muscular art' [power] upon the ear of the populace. The Slam is now the most potent grass-roots arts movement in the country...more than anything else, at a time when 'poetry readings' connoted a beard chained to a podium, a muffled voice, and an airless ear, Slams allowed a generation to attend a poetry reading without saying they were going to a poetry reading'</li></ul>Sarah Law Poetry of the USA since 1945<br />
  15. 15. Slam Style <br /> Can include a broad range of voices and styles, e.g.<br />Hip-hop music and dub poetry<br />Dramatic delivery including shifting voices and tones, <br />Backing tracks/sounds and dance<br />Sometimes, none of the above: poets may use unrhyming narrative format, flat ironic tone – non 'theatrical' delivery.<br />Sarah Law Poetry of the USA since 1945<br />
  16. 16. Slam Language & Theme<br /><ul><li>Almost all slam poetry is written in first person, is narrative, and aims to be comprehensible upon a first listen.
  17. 17. Devices such as homophonic wordplay, repetition, singing, call and response, and rhyme are frequently used on the slam stage.
  18. 18. Much of the work performed at slams could be categorised as comedy, parody, or drama.
  19. 19. 'Protest' pieces are frequent at a slam; many poets regard the slam stage as a political soapbox. </li></ul>Sarah Law Poetry of the USA since 1945<br />
  20. 20. An Art of Self-Proclamation?<br /><ul><li>One of the most defining characteristics of slam poetry is a poet's performance of identity and identity politics.
  21. 21. The audience is encouraged to receive a performed poem as a 'confessional moment'
  22. 22. A great deal of the work appearing in recent slam and spoken word anthologies and films confirms the trend of proclaiming one's identity for an audience.
  23. 23. Some slam poets feel that the genre has fallen 'from a lyrical collaborative art to that of an art of self-proclamation' (Genevieve Van Cleve)</li></ul>Sarah Law Poetry of the USA since 1945<br />
  24. 24. Patricia Smith, 'Skinhead‘: a persona poem:<br />They call me skinhead, and I got my own beauty.It is knife-scrawled across my back in sore, jagged letters, it’s in the way my eyes snap away from the obvious.I sit in my dim matchbox, on the edge of a bed tousled with my ragged smell,slide razors across my hair,count how many waysI can bring blood closer to the surface of my skin.These are the duties of the righteous,the ways of the anointed. (first stanza)<br />'When I perform the poem, audiences are jolted by his voice coming from the mouth of a black woman'. <br />Sarah Law Poetry of the USA since 1945<br />
  25. 25. Gil Scott Heron<br /><ul><li>'The Revolution will not be Televised' 1971</li></ul>The revolution will not be right back after a message<br />about a white tornado, white lightning, or white people.<br />You will not have to worry about a dove in your<br />bedroom, a tiger in your tank, or the giant in your toilet bowl.<br />The revolution will not go better with Coke.<br />The revolution will not fight the germs that may cause bad breath.<br />The revolution will put you in the driver's seat...<br />"Scott-Heron's unique proto-rap style influenced a generation of hip-hop artists".(AllMusic Magazine)<br />Sarah Law Poetry of the USA since 1945<br />
  26. 26. Hip Hop Poetica (Kevin Coval)<br />'Hip-hop poetica are modern griots, indigenous keepers and tellers of his/her/stories. Implicit in that is the always tale of a people, the continuing narrative of family and ancestors...Hope-hop poetics is the epic recitation of the marginalized, a meta-pronouncement of displacement in and outside of historical specificity, as well as the particular moment of neighborhood, space, and time...'<br />Sarah Law Poetry of the USA since 1945<br />
  27. 27. Coval suggests 10 points of hip hop poetic:<br /><ul><li>The hip-hop poetica is aware of and constantly sifting through legacy. Hip hop poets are ... keepers of stories...
  28. 28. constructs radical collages, pastiches
  29. 29. systematic rupture of line and time...enjambment and breath-line units...sampling from forms...text size and style...the moment fissured and reassembled.
  30. 30. in-your-face-insistence-of-place
  31. 31. satiric, not ironic. Funny, not futile.
  32. 32. consciously confrontational
  33. 33. juxtaposition and overlayering of styles/genre
  34. 34. self-reference and layered meaning.
  35. 35. song structure and word play.
  36. 36. communal narrative.</li></ul>Sarah Law Poetry of the USA since 1945<br />
  37. 37. Def Poetry<br /><ul><li>HBO series of hip-hop and performance poetry
  38. 38. Combines mass media delivery of performance poetry and spoken word with 'real audience' setting of the poetry slam.
  39. 39. Wide selection of clips on YouTube!</li></ul>Sarah Law Poetry of the USA since 1945<br />
  40. 40. Performance Poetry: good or bad...<br /><ul><li>'The death of art' (Critic Harold Bloom)
  41. 41. 'We are the next articulation in American letters, the next wave in a long tradition of verse. We are here...' (Kevin Coval)
  42. 42. Is there a difference between performance poetry and 'spoken word'?</li></ul>Sarah Law Poetry of the USA since 1945<br />