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What is Spoken Word?

Antoine Jaccoud

Jens Nielsen

As the name clearly sates, the spoken word takes centre stage in this literary art form. That might sound simple – and it is. A person stands in front of an audience and tells a story or recites a poem. Sometimes to entertain, sometimes to provide food for thought, sometimes both at the same time. But above all: to be heard. A concept that is not only very simple, but also age-old. Poetry competitions were carried out as early as antiquity, with the audience declaring their favourite poet the winner, and in medieval times the minstrel used the spoken word to win the favours of the adored gentlewoman. After the invention of printing and the triumph of the written word, the spoken word only regained importance in the middle of the twentieth century when Eugen Gomringer, Ernst Jandl and other exponents of concrete poetry rediscovered the sound of language as a playing filed. At the latest by the 1980s, the spoken word had found its way back into literature and art thanks to the performers of the beat generation, of hip-hop and poetry slam.

Spoken word leaves behind the boundaries set by scripturality. It shoots out of the mouth and goes directly into the ear, it screams, it whispers, it murmurs, it does everything the human speech apparatus can do and it therefore combines literary content and literary depiction – as naturally, as tightly and as logically as hardly any other genre.

What is Poetry Slam?

A poetry slam is a contest during which poets (usually about ten of them) compete against each other. The few easy rules are: the respective text must be written by the person performing it, props and costumes are forbidden, and there is a time limit (of 3 to 10 minutes, depending on the country and venue). Apart from that, everything is possible that falls within the law. Anyone can perform. Which ensures that poetry slams are evenings rich in variety, during which not only different languages and dialects can be heard but also the most diverse text forms, reaching from poetry and prose right up to rap. At the end of the evening, the audience chooses a winner (by means of a score-boarding with points from 1 to ten and/or applause); the prize is traditionally a bottle of whisky that is subsequently shared with all participants (and not uncommonly with the audience).

The fact that no pre-selection of participants is made, the simple appraisal system, and the merely symbolic prize turn poetry slams into a parody of our competitive world, especially the competitiveness of the literary scene, and at the same time into a celebration of the spoken word and literature itself.

Poetry slams belong to the most popular forms of spoken word.

Further information at www.poetryslam.ch