Who'd a thunk it?!
There is no single, agreed upon definition for "Spoken Word" as an art form.
Jazz poets of the Harlem Renaissance had a lot in common with today's hip-hop style poets— politics, black pride and the creation of new words heavy on beat, rhythm & attitude.
Hip-hop fans often say "Spoken Word" is the other style of performed poetry— its non-rap— however, language arts scholars and non-rap poets say Rap is a sub-category of Spoken Word. No one is right!
Beat Generation icon Jack Kerouac was from Denver, CO and was "spokesperson" for the Beats.
Early Native American stories were not written— indigenous languages are tonal (dependent on the sound of words), stories are "interactive" realities to listeners, time & space— so, the meaning is in the telling.
Buffalo Bill depended on his charismatic storytelling to dispel racist beliefs about Native American culture and to promote nature conservation.
One woman's obsession with Haiku poetry inspired a new movement of writing style in the US that came to be called American Modernist— Harriet Monroe, editor of the then cutting-edge poetry journal that was simply called Poetry.
A humorous, raccoon hunting story told in 1973 on Tennessee radio led to the largest storytelling festival held annually in the world today.
Dancehall DeeJaying and Reggae Dub are roots to Rap and hip-hop culture.
Mother Goose was intentionally promoted to create a national symbol of American childhood.
Some early radio actors went on to become hugely successful television comedians.
The largest consumer group of Gangsta Rap is white, middle-class adolescent males.
There is a large & growing Conscious Rap movement of artists, activists & fans working to promote non-violent, socially responsible lyrics.
Word Bands (spoken lyrics & rock) sprouted in the early 80's but most wilted in the shadow of Rap's popularity.
The micro-chip (computers & sound equipment) spurred a whirlwind of Postmodern performance art in mixed media, avant-garde stage, and word/sound collaborations.
The first poetry workshops (non-academic) were hosted in the early 60's by Paul Blackburn & friends at McSorley's bar in N.Y. Some poets walked out against a 25¢ cover.
The first "open-mics," were in Nov. '85 in Chicago (Get Me High Lounge), hosted by Mark Kelly Smith— also "slampapi" of the first Slam, July 25, 1986, held at Green Mill Tavern (a jazz club).
Canadian Fusion was crafted & powered by performance artist/poet Todd Swift in the 70's.
Zoa Smith's electronic urban storytelling, Talkapella™, blazed a trail for "performance poets" in Oregon in the early '80's.
Reggae Dub poetry thrives in Canada with a number of working performers in this genre.
The term "performance poetry" caught on because of a newspaper article in the Austin Chronicle describing the word band poet Hedwig Gorski in the 80's.
Early Spoken Word recordings enjoyed mass popularity in America after Robert Frost recited The Gift Outright at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy.
Contemporary Native American poet John Trudell mesmerizes crowds with his intense, pacing, chant-talk on spiritual & political issues, often touring with a word band.
Poet LeRoi Jones of the 60's is today's Amira Baraka— now, one of the most quoted writers on Spoken Word history & critique.