Spoken Word Poetry: The Art of Performing and Storytelling


October is an exciting month for any YA lit fan, because it includes Teen Read Week! In honor of this annual celebration of young adult literature, YALSA invited book-loving teens all over the world to apply to share their enthusiasm for reading in a guest post for The Hub. Thirty-one talented young writers were chosen, and we’ll be featuring posts from these unique voices all month long. Here’s Natalie Harris from California.

LouderThanABombPoetry they say can only consist of roses that are red and little violets that are blue, but they are wrong. There is more depth to poetry than you could ever imagine.

Spoken word poetry is poetry that cannot just be left alone on paper. It demands to be performed, to be shared with someone, and to fill the world with the verses you have created.

Spoken word poetry can be whatever you want it to be about. It can be sad, funny, joyful, serious, even a little bit weird or silly. It’s a way to express yourself, and like Sarah Kay says in her TED Talk in 2011, “It’s not just the average write what you know, it’s about gathering all the knowledge and experience you’ve collected up until now to help you dive into the things you don’t know.”

I had never heard about spoken word until I immediately fell in love watching Sarah Kay’s TED Talk in my 7th grade English class. In the TED talk she performed her poems “B” and “Hiroshima.” She also talked about spoken word and her organization called Project V.O.I.C.E which educates and inspires people about spoken word poetry.

I wanted to know more about spoken word after I heard Sarah Kay, so I looked for more spoken word poets and I loved what each one brought to the table. Taylor Mali continues to make me laugh with his poems “Totally Like Whatever” and “The the Impotence of Proofreading,” I stare in awe when Rives finishes his poem “Mockingbird,” the way Lemon Andersen speaks gives me chills, and the way Phil Kaye pours his feelings and personality into every word and every poem he says is magical. I can only hope one day I’ll be able to do the same, and that all of us will be able to craft our words with such wit and beauty.

I love spoken word for three main reasons:

1. I get to put my thoughts, my feelings, and my stories onto paper

2. I get to share those stories with people.

3. The people that I share my poems with, understand me. They share my happiness, my pain, and my memories.

noMattertheWreckageIn a Tedx Talk Phil Kaye talks about how “we tell stories to feel alive” and that we “tell stories to entertain, to warn, to scare, to explain,” and I couldn’t agree with him more. Everyone has stories to tell for we have all experienced memories. Some of those memories are good, and others make us want to tear our heart out, but those good and bad memories cause emotion. I like to write and share my poetry because sometimes it helps sort my emotions out. Yes, it does help to write sad and angry thoughts down when you are going through a painful time, but sometimes I like to write something that makes me laugh, or something that makes me think.

Poetry is all about taking the risk. It takes a lot of courage to get up on a stage and to be a little bit vulnerable. Sarah Kay said in her TED Talk that when she was 14 and went up in front of her peers and lightBulbSymphonyperformed a poem about “the injustice of being seen as unfeminine”. After she was done with her poem all the teenagers cheered and clapped because they understood her. A girl came up to 14 year old Sarah afterwards and said “Hey, I really felt  that. Thanks.” This just shows how much words can change someone; we all have something to say whether it is big or small, serious or funny. You can be 15 or 51 and still be able to cause someone to feel the same emotion you do. Poetry is powerful, words are powerful, and I guess that’s why I like it so much.

If you want to get started or try out some spoken word, I highly recommend Sarah Kay’s poetry book No Matter the Wreckage and Phil Kaye’s book A Light Bulb Symphony. I also suggest watching these videos:

If you watch their hand movements, the way they walk, and how they talk you can see how all of it combined makes an amazing performance. Even though Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye stand at the microphones and don’t move around as much as Gives and Taylor Mali, the way they move their hands is what emphasizes certain words or verses. There are so many different ways you can perform your poetry, and with time you can develop a style you call your own. I like to watch videos to see different ways people like to perform. A really good movie I suggest to everyone is Louder Than a Bomb. It’s about kids that perform spoken word at a poetry slam for teenagers in Chicago. I watched it in my 8th grade English class, and it was one of my ultimate highlights from last year. It was very cool to see the poems when they performed as a group, to hear all of their unique stories, and to watch the people and their poems grow.

Spoken word is a kind of art anyone can do. All you need is a pencil, a piece of paper, and a story to tell. One day we will change the world with our words, but first we must start with changing each other.  We must tell each other the stories of our heartbreaks, of our little puppies that wake us up in the morning, of our first kiss, of our big adventures we had in small towns. Spoken word poetry is everything, anything we want it to be. So what will your poem be about?

~ Natalie Harris likes to write short stories and poetry in her free time. In-between reading and writing she runs for her school’s cross country team. Her favorite subjects are English (obviously) and science. She loves to volunteer at summer camps and plans on volunteering at her public library. Her favorite book series is the Kingdom Keepers by Ridley Pearson.

One thought on “Spoken Word Poetry: The Art of Performing and Storytelling”

  1. I love your article! I’m a fellow teen blogger, and its great hearing about people who also love spoken word. Have you tried the Button Poetry youtube channel? I love their collection. Great job on your article!

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