One of the most famous poets of all time, Robert Frost, once said that, “Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.” To me, this rings true because poetry has long been used as a form of self-expression and storytelling for people, dating back to the Epic of Gilgamesh in the third millennium BCE.
For much of history, poetry has been an integral part of many cultures. The Greeks had their great epics that told stories of their gods and heros. In China, Confucius once said that the purpose of poetry was to make the mind contemplate a subject deeply. And of course, the West has used it for similar purposes, evoking the power of the written word to convey ideas and emotions.
However, poetry has a been suffering a decline in contemporary times. Most people can’t even give the name of a poet or author when asked for one, let alone know the difference between a sestina and a tanka. In fact, Google searches for poetry have declined every single year from when the search engine began tracking search data in 2004 to now.
Yet in the past few decade, there has been a resurgence of a certain kind of poetry, and the community is thriving. Slam poetry or spoken word poetry as we know it today was largely influenced by the Harlem Renaissance and Civil Rights Movement. Many black Americans used the oral performance art as a means of resistance. Often, the contents of these poems are political in nature, expressing a certain opinion or point of view. In fact, famous speeches like Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” incorporates poetic devices like repetition, a clear influence of spoken word. Here is an example of a spoken word poem that touches upon issues of urban life, feminism, economics, etc.
Today, it isn’t hard to find an open mic night or poetry slam if you’re interested in checking it out. A quick search online yields many events and opportunities to read, write, and listen to spoken word.
In fact, UCLA’s own Cultural Affairs Commission hosts The Word, a two hour open mic night that invites students to perform their written work in front of an audience. The Word is hosted every Wednesday from 7:00pm to 9:00pm in the Kerckhoff Art Gallery.