English Literature
Performance Poetry

Performance Poetry

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The Art of Performance Poetry

Have you ever been captivated by a poem, wondering what the writer was trying to convey? Wouldn't it be beneficial to hear the poet read their work, emphasizing certain words, pausing at crucial moments, and utilizing unique rhythms?

This is where performance poetry comes into play. Let's delve deeper into the definition, evolution, and significance of this genre.

What Exactly is Performance Poetry?

As English poet Adrian Mitchell once said, "Reading poetry is not like reading other writing. The best approach is to experience it performed first, then read it." Performance poetry is composed with the intention of being performed or spontaneously created during a live performance for an audience.

The Progression of Performance Poetry

The origins of modern performance poetry can be traced back to the early 20th century when poets such as Basil Bunting challenged the conventional belief that poetry could only be in written form. They argued that a poem must be spoken to be fully understood. In the 1950s and 60s, poets like Allen Ginsberg experimented with composing and recording poems orally, often using tape recorders.

The Beat Generation, a literary movement that criticized American capitalism and academic elitism, popularized performance events through jazz and poetry reading nights. Poets like Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac also released audio recordings of their work. In the 1960s, David Antin introduced improvisational poetry performances, which he dubbed "talk poems."

The Birth of Performance Poetry

While performance poetry has been around for many years, it wasn't recognized as a distinct genre until the late 20th century. It was not until 1982 that performance artist and poet Hedwig Gorski coined the term "performance poetry" in her column for the Austin Chronicle, differentiating it from performance art.

Performance Poetry Enters the Mainstream

In the 1980s, performance poetry gained more widespread attention as it attracted larger audiences in cities like New York, San Francisco, and Austin, Texas. Music was often incorporated into performances, such as Gorski's collaborations with the band East of Eden Band. Roxy Gordon, a Native American writer and musician, also gained fame for his spoken word performances with musical accompaniment.

The Emergence of Slam Poetry

Performance poetry events at cafes and clubs paved the way for slam poetry, a competitive form of spoken word performance. This led to a division in the performance poetry genre, with one form focusing on recording and broadcasting poetry, and the other on intimate live performances for audiences.

Performance Poetry Today

Today, performance poetry remains a popular form of expression, with poets showcasing their work at major festivals like The Edinburgh Fringe and dedicated poetry events such as The New York City Poetry Festival.

Performance Poetry and the Postmodern Movement

Performance poetry has strong ties to postmodernism, a literary movement that emerged in the mid-20th century. Postmodernism is characterized by skepticism, fragmentation, and isolation, and performance poetry often challenges traditional poetic structures and forms, such as sonnets, by experimenting with unique rhythms and engaging audiences in a new way.

In Conclusion

Performance poetry continues to evolve and challenge boundaries. By blending the written word with live performance, it offers a fresh and captivating way to experience poetry and connect with audiences. Whether you are a poet or a spectator, performance poetry is a must-see form of artistic expression that will ignite your imagination and leave a lasting impact.

Performance Poetry: Evolution and Types

Performance poetry has undergone significant changes throughout history, with various types emerging over time. Below, we explore four examples that showcase the differences between performance poetry before and after 1982.

Robert Frost's 'The Gift Outright' (1941)

In 1961, Robert Frost became the first poet to perform at a Presidential Inauguration, reciting his poem 'The Gift Outright' at John F Kennedy's inauguration. This performance increased the popularity of spoken word recordings by Frost. 'The Gift Outright' was originally published in 1942 and consists of a single sixteen-line stanza. Frost's simplistic yet steady tempo while reading reflects the poem's form.The simplicity of poetic expression is further revealed by the physical movements and varied intonation used by famous poets, highlighting its power and versatility. This was evident in Alan Ginsberg's performance at 'The International Poetry Incarnation' in 1965, where he emphasized certain words with elongated pronunciation and physical gestures, effectively conveying a range of emotions to his audience.Another memorable performance was Roger McGough's rendition of 'The Sound Collector' in 2012 for BBC Two's Let's Write Poetry: The Big Slam. Accompanied by a visual representation of the 'stranger' in the poem, McGough's use of rhyme, repetition, and colloquial language created a rhythmic and captivating piece.Similarly, John Cooper Clarke's reading of 'Smooth Operetta' at BBC Radio's 6 Music Festival in 2014 also incorporated these elements, making for an entertaining and unforgettable performance.Performance poetry has evolved over the years, giving rise to various styles such as poetry reading, spoken word, slam poetry, and jazz poetry. Poetry readings involve reciting written poems to an audience, often staying true to the written form without much experimentation with sound and rhythm.On the other hand, spoken word poetry is specifically written for performance, incorporating music, movement, and expression to create a multi-sensory experience. Poet Kevin Coval, influenced by hip-hop music, often incorporates this style into his work.Slam poetry, which is commonly seen in poetry slams, is a high-energy form of performance that aims to make poetry more accessible to the general public. Unlike other types of performance poetry, slam poetry does not allow the use of props or music, relying solely on the delivery and words of the poet.Jazz poetry, known for its improvisational feel, is often performed with live music and shares a rhythmic flow with jazz music. This style of performance poetry has become increasingly popular due to its fusion of spoken word and music.From traditional poetry readings to the lively and energetic performances of slam poetry, performance poetry continues to evolve and take on various forms, making it a popular form of expression in the mainstream. Its ability to captivate audiences and convey powerful messages has solidified its place as a timeless art form.One significant influence on performance poetry is jazz music, which has been seamlessly incorporated into its evolution. In the 1920s, Langston Hughes wrote his iconic poem 'The Weary Blues' in free verse, incorporating the sounds and rhythms of jazz and blues music. This fusion continued with the Beat generation of poets, such as Jack Kerouac and Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who often performed their works alongside music, blurring the lines between written and spoken word.While performance poetry shares many similarities with written poetry, the key difference is its delivery through spoken word, creating a unique and dynamic experience. Emotions are conveyed not only through the poet's words but also through their tone, gestures, and dynamics. The incorporation of rhythm adds another layer to this form of expression, creating a multifaceted and impactful performance.In conclusion, performance poetry continues to evolve and thrive, with its ability to engage and connect with audiences on a deeper level. Its fusion with other art forms, such as jazz music, has only enriched its expressive power and solidified its place as a timeless and influential art form.

Performance poetry is a unique art form that combines spoken word and live performance. Some poets choose to incorporate musical accompaniment or alter the rhythm of the poem as they perform, using techniques like pace, pauses, and beatboxing to enhance their delivery.

One of the defining features of performance poetry is its element of improvisation. While a poet may have a general structure for their piece, they leave room for spontaneity during the performance. This allows for audience interaction through call and response or other interactive elements.

What Sets Performance Poetry Apart from Traditional Oral Poetry?

Although performance poetry has been around for centuries, it differs from traditional oral poetry in its experimental use of rhythm and rhyme. Traditional oral poems often followed simple structures and forms, used for the purpose of passing down stories in pre-literate societies.

Performance Poetry: Key Points to Remember

  • Performance poetry is written with the intention of being performed live in front of an audience.
  • The term "performance poetry" was coined in 1982 by Hedwig Gorski, who used it to differentiate her spoken word performances from performance art.
  • It breaks away from traditional forms of poetry and embraces experimentation with rhythm and delivery to engage the audience.
  • Poetry reading, spoken word, slam poetry, and jazz poetry are all considered forms of performance poetry.
  • The three main features of performance poetry are emotive speech, rhythm, and improvisation.

Examples of Performance Poetry

In 2012, poet Roger McGough performed his poem 'The Sound Collector' on BBC Two's Let's Write Poetry: The Big Slam. His performance incorporated a steady pace, a silhouette, and other elements to enhance the delivery of the poem.

How to Write Performance Poetry

The foundation of performance poetry is similar to that of any other form of poetry. Start with a subject or story that inspires you, jot down ideas, and decide on a form or structure. Then, consider how you can incorporate performance elements like pace, gestures, and improvisation to bring your poem to life for a live audience.

How to Perfect Your Performance Poetry

Are you ready to take your poetry to the next level by performing it live in front of an audience? It may seem daunting, but with the right techniques, you can captivate your audience and effectively convey the message of your poem. Here's how to perfect your performance poetry.

The Goal of Performance Poetry

The main objective of performance poetry is to entertain and engage the audience while effectively expressing the meaning and emotion of the poem through vocal delivery and physical movements. It's a powerful way to connect with the audience and bring the poem to life.

The Characteristics of Performance Poetry

There are three key characteristics that define performance poetry: emotive speech, rhythm, and improvisation.

  • Emotive Speech: The use of tone, volume, and pitch to convey emotion and enhance the impact of the poem. This allows the audience to feel the emotions behind the words.
  • Rhythm: The natural flow and cadence of the poem, which is accentuated through vocal delivery and movement. This helps to engage the audience and keep them captivated throughout the performance.
  • Improvisation: The ability to adapt and improvise on the spot, adding elements such as gestures or facial expressions to enhance the performance and make it more dynamic.

Together, these characteristics create a unique and powerful form of poetry that can truly captivate an audience and leave a lasting impact.

So next time you're preparing to perform your poetry, remember to utilize emotive speech, rhythm, and improvisation to bring your words to life and connect with your audience. And don't forget to have fun and enjoy the performance! After all, the purpose of performance poetry is to entertain and engage the audience, so let your passion shine through.

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