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Spoken word editorial:

Your voice is the most revealing thing about you. Your voice is your essence. Ask any singer, rapper, or spoken word poet. It is the gift that stands out pre-emminently and is a first for expression; therefore it carries a true and real presence. Talk, scream, shout, bawl, cry, weep, whisper - you name it, it does it all. Since its inception, the spoken word has been an outlet for us to express ourselves in the freest way possible. From religion, politics, sex, gender, the spoken word has existed as a highly conscious form with which to challenge and inform us of any human aspect pertaining to life. We have been bewildered, illuminated and shocked by spoken word poetry for almost a century and its power is extremely deep-rooted. It can be traced to as far back as the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920’s and blues music. Nuyorican Poets Café on New York’s Lower Eastside was founded in 1973 and is one of the oldest American venues for presenting spoken word poetry. In London, the Poetry Café, holds its own prestige, as a society stretching as far back as 1909. Today, we have also been able to tune into Def Jam Poetry to witness the power of the word, visit YouTube, or simply put on a CD.

Postcard_II.jpgImage: Laurence Gardner

The spoken word has a more widespread and diverse history than that of the written word, since as long as the voice has existed as a form of expression. Recitation stretches back: Shakespeare, Rumi, Kabir, Hafiz, Greek Homer, and further. In more modern times, we have been graced with the likes of the beat poets, Gill Scott-Heron and Henry Rollins. When we get to thinking about the art form, we remember how prevalent it is in popular and underground culture, and how diverse. The spoken word is also a vibrant cross over into music and performance, from jazz poets, to soul poets, funk, and all out rockers. Its association with music and performance is a reminder of legends such as Patti Smith, Saul Williams and acts as diverse and young as the recent Scroobius Pip, which continue to entertain and challenge the medium. Actor Craig Charles’s first appearance on TV was as a performance poet, which helped launch his career.

Today, right now, you will see this tradition alive, and very much with the youth, or new voices – the sport of spoken word is also a modern phenomenon, having evolved into ‘Poetry Slams’. The youth have used words as nurturing and prime development tools, and have paved words over electronic schisms and hip-hop rhythms, continuing to breathe life into it. Here in London, you can go to any small venue and see crowds nod, dance or sharpen at the pronunciation of a word, and tilt ears as receivers of a message. All the while, the presence of the greats and the spoken word tradition lingers and influences us; its signs, sounds, messages and power – the youngest is part of the oldest.

Rajiv Mahabir (Spoken word editor)