Performance poetry

Performance poetry

Performance poetry is poetry that is specifically composed for or during performance before an audience. During the 1980s, the term came into popular usage to describe poetry written or composed for performance rather than print distribution. Performance poetry is linked to pop culture rather than to the great literature of the past, and tends to be denied credibility by academics, but has created a wider audience for poetry.Fact|date=August 2008


" newspaper, printing Gorski's bi-weekly "Litera" column, first published the term "performance poetry" to describe the work of Gorski with composer D'Jalma Garnier III as early as 1982 or 1983.

The National Endowment for the Arts categorized performance art within the visual arts judging panels; it placed performance poetry within the category of literature. Since many performance poets did not have publications, the latter classification made performance poets categorically ineligible for the NEA fellowship funding or recognition. Their audio cassettes were not acceptable sample material for literature grant consideration; unfortunately, their performance poems translated into text on paper could not compete with poetry written for print publication. The NEA makes no exceptions to this date for the varied presentation of samples in the poetry category of grants. Performance poetry with music peaked during the 1980s just as performance art peaked in the 1970s.

During that time, San Francisco and New York were the centers for this type of activity; however, Austin, Texas (The Third Coast) also had a thriving scene during the 1980s with a coterie of unique characters. Some of the best original Austin performance poets and performing poets who went on to national and international notoriety include Raul Salinas, Konstantyn K. Kuzminsky, Joy Cole, Hedwig Gorski, Roxy Gordon, Ricardo Sanchez, Harryette Mullen, who was nominated for the National Book Award. The Austin Poets Audio Anthology Project, a public arts project, recorded them for radio broadcasts. There were many others, though, and Hedwig Gorski once wrote in "Litera" that some were "eerie", a word used by one newspaper reviewer to describe Gorski's vocals on the East of Eden Band track "There's Always Something That Can Make You Happy". Other performing writers in the robust literary scene of the Austin area during that time when performance poetry turned into a school of poetry included Pat Littledog, Eleanor Crockett, Jim Ryan, Chuck Taylor, Greg Gauntner, Albert Huffstickler, W. Joe Hoppe, Andy Clausen, Isabella Ides and David Jewell, most recorded on Hedwig Gorski's audio anthology project. The latter deserves special mention as he would become by far the most popular performance poet to come out of the Austin scene, a transitional figure, younger than the aforementioned, and one not especially rooted in the Beats. Poets who came before Jewell were almost always rooted in the Beats, and their performances showed it. Problem was, by the 1980s the general poetry public just was not that into the Beats...they were looking for something fresher, newer, hipper, more in touch with the times in which they were living than with a style out of the 1950s and 60's. Jewell gave them a poet to whom they could relate. He was the first on the Austin scene to successfully experiment with, and explore, some of the new audio/video technologies of the day. His performances appealed to a younger audience more into the rock&roll slash multi-media culture than the poetry scene. His style paved the way for the emerging slam poetry scene which would soon revitalize poetry in performance.

Performing poets/writers and especially performance poets excelled in the ability to put the event of oral literature into the primary social/communicative function for literature. The plurality of the literary performance is under the control of the poet/writer, and the performer never minimizes the participation of the audience members. The post-modern incarnation of performed poetry is international, for example, Wellington underground poets movement in New Zealand broke new ground in creative expression in the 1980s primarily due to technology. But it is important to remember that performance was the primary distribution method for poetics since tribal times and ancient Greece. As Gorski often states, broadcast and technology surpass books in reaching mass audiences for poetry, and writing poetry for print has been a completely different artform since the invention of the book.

Poetry in oral cultures

Performance poetry is not solely a postmodern phenomenon. It begins with the performance of oral poems in pre-literate societies. By definition, these poems were transmitted orally from performer to performer and were constructed using devices such as repetition, alliteration, rhyme and kennings to facilitate memorization and recall. The performer "composed" the poem from memory, using the version they had learned as a kind of mental template. This process allowed the performer to add their own flavor to the poem in question, although fidelity to the traditional versions of the poems was generally favored.

The advent of printing

Although popular works, including popular poems or collections of poems, were already being distributed for private reading and study in manuscript form, there can be little doubt that the introduction of cheap printing technologies accelerated this trend considerably. The result was a change in the poet's role in society. From having been an entertainer, the poet became primarily a provider of written texts for private readings. The public performance of poetry became generally restricted, at least in a European context, to the staging of plays in verse and occasionally, for example in the cases of the Elizabethan madrigalists or Robert Burns, as texts for singing. Apart from this, the performance of poetry was restricted to reading aloud from printed books within families or groups of friends.

The 20th century

The early years of the 20th century saw a general questioning of artistic forms and conventions. Poets like Basil Bunting and Louis Zukofsky called for a renewed emphasis on poetry as sound. Bunting in particular argued that it the poem on the page was like a musical score; not fully intelligible until sounded. This attitude to poetry helped to encourage an environment in which poetry readings were fostered. This was reinforced by Charles Olson's call for a poetic line based on human breath.

During the 1950s, the poet Cid Corman began to experiment with what he called oral poetry. This involved spontaneously composing poems into a tape recorder. Allen Ginsberg was to take up this practice in the 1960s. David Antin, who heard some of Corman's tapes, took the process one step further. He composed his "talk-poems" by improvising in front of an audience. These performances were recorded and the tapes were later transcribed to be published in book form. Around the same time, Jerome Rothenberg was drawing on his ethnopoetic researches to create poems for ritual performances as happenings. Perhaps most famously, the writers of the Beat generation were noted for performance events that married poetry and jazz.

In Britain, sound poets like Bob Cobbing and Edwin Morgan were exploring the possibilities of live performance. Cobbing's groups Bird Yak and Konkrete Canticle involved collaborative performance with other poets and musicians and were partly responsible for drawing a number of the poets of the British Poetry Revival into the performance arena.

Meanwhile, many more mainstream poets in both Britain and the United States were giving poetry readings, largely to small academic gatherings on university campuses. Poetry readings were given national prominence when Robert Frost recited "The Gift Outright" from memory at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. After that event, spoken word recordings of Frost and other major figures enjoyed increased popularity.

The 1970s and After

By the 1970s, three main forms of poetry performance had emerged. First was the poetry reading, at which poems that had been written for the page were read to an audience, usually by the author. Poetry readings have become widespread and poetry festivals and reading series are now part of the cultural landscape of most Western societies. However, most people would not consider the poetry readings of this type as part of the performance poetry phenomena.

This leaves three types of poetry performance, poems written specifically for performance on the Jerome Rothenberg model and poems like those of David Antin that are composed during performance. Both these types would generally be considered to constitute performance poetry. Another type based on the Beat method of reading their porint poems is poetry with music. The bands with performance poets who make spoken vocals an exercise in not singing. While Ginsberg actually sang his Blake songs with a harmonium, the original practitioner of this third and most popular type of performance poetry is Hedwig Gorski, who coined the term performance poetry to describe her work with music. Unlike the Beats, Ginsberg and Kerouac, her poems were written for performance with music that was specifically composed for the poems. Her spoken vocals have come as close to singing as possible without really singing. That is the key to Gorski's performance poetry, the marriage of poetry to music. The other type of performance poetry Gorski practiced is without music and tied to conceptual art, but that was at appearances in smaller venues that could not accommodate her band. Unlike Antin and Cormin, Gorski never improvised text.

In the U. S., the rise to prominence of the L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets with their distrust of speech as a basis for poetry has, broadly speaking, meant that performance poetry went out of fashion with the "avant-garde". However, the increasing popularity of open mikes, which allow "unknown" poets to take the stage and share their own work in 3-5 minute increments and of poetry slams has meant that performance poetry is now one of the most widespread forms of popular poetry. Chief among the proponents of these new forms of popular poetry were Bob Holman in New York, Marc Smith in Chicago and Alan Kaufman in San Francisco. In the 1990s, the Favorite Poem project of then U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky gave new visibility to ordinary Americans reading and performing their favorite poems. Contemporary performance poets are now experimenting with poetry performances adapted to CD, to video, and to Web audiences.

The Beat Poets were the first to popularize crossing over into recorded media to distribute their performed poetry. The best-known Beat poet, Allen Ginsberg, followed the lead of fellow Beat, Jack Kerouac, in reciting his work for audio recording. Ginsberg always used music with his readings and often accompanied himself on the harmonium. Ginsberg put William Blake's poems to music and performed them with the harmonium. Even though the Beats did not use the term "Performance Poetry" to categorize their work with music and audio recordings, the Beats provided an immediate model for the work of Hedwig Gorski. She is a Nova Scotia College of Art and Design art school graduate in 1976. The art school was infamous for starting the careers of numerous 1970s performance artists, such as Vito Acconci, known for photographing his bites. Hedwig Gorski coined the term "Performance Poetry" to describe her poetry performances with her musical band East of Eden. Since the early 1990s 3 Guys from Albany have toured the United States as a part of a plan to perform in all of the Albanys in the U.S. Touring became a widespread means for peforamnce poets and slammers to distribute their since the 1990s. The Poetry Slam is a competitive live performance format founded by poet Marc Smith in Chicago, which has become a hotbed for performance poetry.

Performance poetry has also been boosted considerably by the appearance of def jam -- the hip-hop recording company helmed by Russell Simmons -- on the scene. def jam has created a television show that showcases performance poets that runs on HBO, as well as a show of performance poets that ran on Broadway for almost a year and won a Tony Award.

Hispanic performing artists, such as Pedro Pietri, Miguel Algarín, Giannina Braschi, and Guillermo Gómez-Peña, are known for their humorous and politically charged attacks against American imperialism.

In Britain, where the influence of L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E was more limited, many "avant-garde" poets are deeply committed to continuing the performance of Cobbing and his peers. Well known names include cris cheek and Aaron Williamson. Slams and open mikes are also popular, and many British performance poets have been influenced by punk poets like John Cooper Clarke and reggae poets like Linton Kwesi Johnson.

On the experimental front, a number of exciting new initiatives have grown around collaborative stage work using poetry and movement. "ShadoWork", for instance, aims to 'disrupt and enrich the conventional regimes of author, text and audience' by combining (simple) theatrical movement with the full range of voice and stage in ways designed to draw deeper attention to the text. Developments such as "ShadoWork" represent a 'counter-cultural' mode of performance poetry which shuns bald entertainment value.

Contemporary British performance poetry, influenced as much by stand-up comedy and MC performances as by its own history, continues to thrive at a grassroots level, with performances in pubs and theatres, as well as at arts festivals such as Glastonbury and The Edinburgh Fringe. This hybrid of poetry, comedy and spoken word is exemplified by acts such as Rachel Pantechnicon, Murray Lachlan Young and Aisle16. In 2003 the first UK conference of performance poetry, organised by Lucy English, was held at Bath Spa University. Speakers included Bob Holman and Charles Bernstein. Bath Spa university now runs a performance poetry module as part of its Creative Writing programme.

Performance poets

*Allen Ginsberg
*Brother Dash
*Carlos Oroza
*Hedwig Gorski
*East of Eden Band
*Amiri Baraka
*David Antin
*John Giorno
*Maggie Estep
*Andrew Motion
*Big Poppa E
*Giannina Braschi
*Brian Patten
*Shaggy Flores
*Ted Milton
*Erykah Badu
*Gerard McKeown
*Guillermo Gómez-Peña
*John S. Hall
*Matt Harvey
*Jayne Fenton Keane
*Jas H. Duke
*Jay Bernard
*Jeremy Reed
*John M. Bennett
*John Cooper Clarke
*José Montoya
*Konstantyn K. Kuzminsky
*Kurt Schwitters
*Leah Lakshmi Piepzna-Samarasinha
*Linton Kwesi Johnson
*Mario Petrucci
*Maggie Estep
*Marc Smith
*Michael Salinger
*Peter Wood
*Quincy Troupe
*Raul Salinas
*Patti Smith
*Ricardo Sanchez
*Robbie Q. Telfer
*Rod Summers
*Roger McGough
*Roger Robinson
*Roxy Gordon
*Ruth Weiss
*Saul Williams
*Sekou Sundiata
*Emanuel Xavier
*Taco Shop Poets
*The Last Poets

ee also

*List of performance poets
*Hedwig Gorski
*East of Eden Band
*Poetry reading
*Wellington underground poets

External links

* [ Collaborative Performance Poetry] "ShadoWork"
* [ Is There A Future For Spoken Word? @]
* [ DigiFlowz.Net Spoken Word and Underground Hip-Hop Distribution Network]
* [ Hedwig Gorski's Portfolio on the Southern Artistry Site]
* [ Audio of East of Eden Band poem written by Gorski "From Box to Living Room to Box"]
* [ E-poets network]
* [ Festival Voix d'Amériques]
* [ Minnesota Spoken Word Association]
* [ Noches de poesía]
* [ Northwest Spoken Word Lab]
* [ Dreams That Money Can Buy - word orchestration & art]
* [ Karawane: Or, the Temporary Death of the Bruitist]
* [ Indiefeed Performance Poetry]
* [ Poets & Writers Directory Photo of Hedwig Gorski]
* [ Write Out Loud - spoken word website]

See also

* Literary movements


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  • performance poetry — noun Poetry written primarily for public performance by the poet • • • Main Entry: ↑perform …   Useful english dictionary

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  • Poetry Slam, Inc. — Poetry Slam, Inc. (PSI) is the official 501(c)(3) non profit organization charged with overseeing the international coalition of poetry slams. Established in 1997, PSI is responsible for making poetry slam more visible and accessible to the world …   Wikipedia

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