Spoken word poetry is taking the internet by a storm. On my Facebook news feed, in the last week, I’ve seen at least four viral videos of spoken word artists performing their poems for equally vocal audiences. Poetry has become something we tend to think of as a ‘higher’ sort of art form, meant to be read alone in a silent nook; somewhere within that we’ve forgotten that poetry has oral origins, so historically was written to be performed or spoken. The rise in popularity of spoken word poets and slam poetry in recent times embraces this historical truth about poetry, while also embracing the current and sometimes ‘taboo’ issues these bold and loud poets explore. Here’s a look at some of our current favourites in the Turnaround office.
1. New American Best Friend by Olivia Gatwood (9781943735105, p/b, Button Poetry, £12.99)
New American Best Friend addresses feminist issues and sexuality, including LGBT themes. It’s also an honest, exposed, and quite fearless collection of work. Personal favourites are “An Alternate Universe In Which I Am Unfazed By The Men Who Do Not Love Me” and “Ode To The Women On Long Island”. The latter of these is aggressive and vivid – I love the snapshot of life you get, and the empowering end which turns a gendered insult into praise. The former of these, no matter gender or sexuality, can be (sadly) related to – being “unfazed” in the face of rejection is difficult to be truly. However, Gatwood makes something that is painful become uplifting in tone, with the final line that asserts: “I have so much beautiful time”. It’s inspiring.
2. Depression & Other Magic Tricks by Sabrina Benaim (9781943735204, p/b, Button Poetry, £13.99)
Sabina Benaim has been getting lots of attention recently – and rightly so. Benaim comments on her book, saying that
I hope you find this book like a friend. Maybe there’s words or feelings you haven’t said out loud. Maybe you feel less alone when you glance through it or sit down with it.
They always say to write the book you wish you had. This is the book I wish I had growing up as a teenager. So here it is, a book of my deepest darkest secrets. Sad. Hopeful. Interrogating.
Literature has the power to unite people. Spoken word, because of its performance format, invites this quality more explicitly. Benaim’s aim with her book Depression & Other Magic Tricks has clearly been met judging by the reception to her work, such as the comments below her videos.
And of course we had to include…
3. Our Numbered Days by Neil Hilborn (9780989641562, p/b, Button Poetry, £13.99)
“OCD” went online four years ago, and yet, I still see it on social media regularly – the enduring love for this poem is a testament to how relevant and important it is to speak about mental health, and to see it depicted on such an open platform. Our Numbered Days is made up of a number of sights and feelings, with musings on life, love and relationships – past and present. Hilborn’s tone is one of sincerity with moments of bluntness; “Little Poems” is one poem divided into smaller sub-poem parts that showcase Hilborn’s ability to balance subtly with the overt.
What makes the impact from this brief selection of poetry so strong and so memorable is the candidness that spoken word poetry allows for – it’s intimate, reveals something private, and involves risk. It’s outspoken. And it pays off.