Listen to me! The moral value of the poetry performance space

In Lucy English and Jack McGowan (ed.), Spoken Word in the UK (2021)
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Abstract

Performance is increasingly important to the poet, which is evidenced by the growing numbers of videos and audio recordings online including YouTube, the National Poetry library, and Poetry Archive. As a result, there are greater opportunities to engage with poets reading their own work and consequently, there is a need to move away from thinking of poetry as primary something that takes shape on the page. Furthermore, by refocusing attention to poetry as an oral artform, in particular to poetry performance, different ways of understanding the value of poetry come to the fore. The live poetry performance, I argue, offers an attempt to reclaim the personal individual expression of language in contemporary society and demands attention by the audience because of the role of voice and body in the performance. Through awareness of ‘uniqueness of voice,’ the performed poem becomes a site of collective meaning making with individual identity intact as a shared endeavour between performer and audience, and necessarily resists appropriation (in the sense that the words experienced cannot be divorced from the performer or the performance space to serve as a proxy for meaning elsewhere). This chapter therefore makes an argument for the need to engage with spoken word and performance poetry in the live performance space.

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Karen Simecek
University of Warwick

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