Niall O'Sullivan

high brow, low brow, none of that stuff in the middle

New Article from Vice about Spoken Word

Posted on | February 2, 2017 | No Comments

(originally posted on my tumblr )

I’ve always thought that the number one rule of poetry criticism is to not judge a poet by their commissions. This article from Vice starts off by throwing a critical light on a recent spate of Nationwide Building Society Ad commissions. It ends by being critical of poets advertising oven chips, which is illuminating because no one is judging John Cooper Clarke’s ode to McCain as his magnum opus.

This article also loses points by making reference to a “poetry boom” which is a point made in every performance poetry article written since the nineties. It is as reliable as the articles that say poetry is dying when looking at the number of poetry books sold at major retailers every year.

Otherwise there are some illuminating soundbites from Sam Berkson, Lisa Mead and James Massiah. Mead cast a much needed critical perspective on the American Youth Slam movement, with its heavily coached, righteously yelled missives about the worthy suffering of each subsequent speaker. Massiah reverses the trend of the first Spoken Worders by saying that he prefers to be refered to as a Performance Poet because the term Spoken Word has too much baggage. So much for my predictions.

There is a good critical article about Spoken Word poetry that is yet to be written. To be fair, this one does well to diagnose the main problem as a critical one. There is a “good for poetry” mentality in Spoken Word, one that thinks that if we all club together and get the art form out there, we’ll all reap the benefits. There is a sense of anxiety that accompanies this missionary mentality and this is what is stifling decent criticism. The truth is that only the good stuff is worth getting out there and criticism that discerns good from bad is the best way of doing this.

I would normally nominate myself for this mission, as I’ve burned enough bridges already and have had my fifteen minutes of Spoken Word fame – but I really can’t be arsed. I have decided that if noone else is doing it, then I guess it will have to be me.

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