Spoken word versus written word: how to find the sweet spot

In my last few years of poetic enterprise, I’ve noticed how important delivery is when sharing my poems aloud. I do a lot of this now. From open mics to speaking my words with friends and fellow creatives, I’m learning that how you say something is as important as what you say.

For spoken word artists, delivery is crucial. While for poets on the page, perhaps the textual shape and word choice of the poem matters more. Of course, most poets, from what I’ve seen, are doing some variation of both and we definitely don’t want to squeeze ourselves into one or the other, though I guess some people might.

Speaking out

I’m so inspired by artists like Kae Tempest. Their delivery gives every word impact, providing meaning beyond just the words. The tone, rhythm, inflection, facial expression: it’s a real performance on a level with singing or acting. It’s not surprising that Kae is also such a talented rapper and live performer.

The “canon”

There are the dead poets of course whose work we can now only access on the page (barring any recorded readings), and the poets of the literary canon, many of whom are obviously brilliant. However, “canonising” literature raises it to a level of inaccessibility and unhelpful hierarchical superiority within some ivory towers.

The most ancient of poets of course did not write down their words. The power of their work was that it was shared and passed down orally from one generation to the next. For them, there was only spoken word. All you needed were ears to listen, making the art form truly democratic.

End goals

Naturally, binaries should be thrown out the window and most poets are doing spoken word, words on the page and all the variations in between. I’m still learning (as always), trying to figure out where I fit. But “fitting” probably matters little as long as the whole thing is fulfilling. Plus, creativity should probably be the antithesis of fitting into a particular mould.

At the moment, I’m enjoying practicing speaking my poems and discovering how a pause here or an emphasis there can change a meaning entirely. At the same time, I love the writing down, the shaping and crafting of words on a page, particularly hand-written words. There is so much flexibility and flow with a pen and paper.

So the goal is to simply to do more and more. Write more, read more aloud: experiment, experiment, experiment. There’s no sweet spot really. It’s all for the love of words and language, however that expression manifests.

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