Spoken word poetry are typically marked by rhyme, repetition, improvisation, and word play, and they frequently address problems of social justice, politics, racism, and community. Similar to slam poetry, spoken word may use music, sound, dance, or other forms of performance to engage audiences. However, unlike slam poetry which is usually performed in a competitive environment, spoken word poetry is generally not judged based on how well it is done but rather how well it fits the theme or idea being expressed.
Spoken word poets often work in collaboration with musicians, actors, dancers, or other artists to create works that combine words with music or imagery. For example, an actor might read off-the-cuff notes given to them on a piece of paper during a live performance of a spoken word poem. These notes can be anything from simple direction (such as "pause here") to more complex instructions such as changing tone or pace over time.
Spoken word poems can be either freestyle or structured. With freestyle poems, speakers are encouraged to use their own language and create their own structures within the limits of what is acceptable to listeners. This type of poetry tends to follow no particular form or pattern and is highly dependent on the imagination and creativity of the poet. Structured poems are written by poets who want to use certain elements throughout their work. These elements include questions, statements, lists, stories, etc.
A wide term for poetry written for performance. Though some spoken word poetry is published on the page, the genre's roots are in oral traditions and performance. Rap, hip-hop, narrative, drama, and jazz, as well as rock, blues, and folk music, may all be found in spoken word. The term is generally used to describe poems that are read rather than sung.
Spoken word artists typically use an instrument (such as a microphone) to deliver their work into a recording device such as a tape recorder or computer microphone. They may write out by hand then recite it live, or they may type out their work using a computer keyboard. In either case, the resulting recording acts as a guide for how they should say the poem when they perform it later.
Spoken word artists may revise and rewrite their works before publishing them. This is particularly common with rap songs that must appeal to record companies who will decide which ones to release based on popularity. Spoken word artists may also create new pieces specifically for performance. These are called "one-act plays" or "playlets."
Spoken word artists often include references to other art forms in their work. For example, an artist might quote another poet within their speech while explaining the context behind a line of verse or refer to an iconic film scene when discussing imagery for visual artists. These cross-disciplinary references help audiences understand the relationship between different genres of art.
Spoken word poetry does not have to rhyme, although specific portions might be rhymed to accentuate an image or add a lyrical element. To improve the rhythmic presentation, spoken word poems may use elements of hip-hop, folk music, or jazz.
Spoken word is a "catchall" phrase that refers to any type of poetry delivered aloud, such as poetry readings, poetry slams, jazz poetry, and hip-hop music, as well as comedy routines and prose monologues. It is usually performed by one speaker, but two or more people have done it in the past, most commonly at open mic nights.
Spoken word is different from written word in many ways. Most notably, it cannot be read silently; instead, it must be delivered orally with a microphone or similar device. Written word can include poems and plays both old and new, while spoken word only includes works that are not originally written for the stage or screen. Spoken word artists often use audio technology to create a rap song, for example, which can be played at a rock festival with equally great success as a traditional musical performance by a band.
Written word and spoken word can both be included in festivals or events specifically designed for the art form. These may take place within walking distance of each other (such as at a local community center) or across town (such as at a university). The only difference is that written word tends to be presented on paper rather than onstage, while spoken word can be either vocalized or typed out onto a computer keyboard.
Some festivals will only include one type of poetry, whereas others will accept both written and spoken word.