Spoken word memoir

Just said this on mailing list but I want to stick it here too so I can remember it and think about it some more. In the context of people saying their students write this kind of thing that is more “performance art” than poetry. What I’m looking at is that this form is a new form – or genre – that we have a hard time judging properly – and there is a knee jerk reaction against it, but that’s because we’re seeing its manifestations popping up all over and not (as we will 30 years from now) its “best” or most characteristic examples. (And mediocre or dull formal poetry is certainly as bad as mediocre spoken word memoir.)

So this is a bit out of context but, anyway, here.

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I tend to feel that there’s a trend of memoir-style spoken word
performance that isn’t what I think of as poetry. It’s a form that’s not as dense and declamatory even as long poems; it’s more like the pace of a section of a novel. I think of them as vignettes or as their own form whose conventions I’m only starting to understand. As poetry, I don’t always like them. But as whatever they are, they’re their own thing.

There is something about the “coming out story” to them; again, they follow a convention of memoir, but of a sort of monologue sharing-aloud memoir. Does anyone know what I’m talking about? I could try to find examples online.

As far as content, the spoken-word memoir seems to extend and turn what I think of as a convention of the generation before me – the Boomer confessional, in which a shade of emotional subtlety is revealed – what is secret is revealed – the “private” of the nuclear family is violated in speaking the unspeakable – then, a moment of aesthetic awareness. For the younger spoken-word memoir poets there is a firmer security in speaking that kind of thing. It comes out, but it isn’t all. I think the point is more that it’s a conscious establishing of political identity, a playing
with identity and story.

7 thoughts on “Spoken word memoir”

  1. memoir-style spoken word
    performance that isn’t what I think of as poetry. It’s a form that’s not as dense and declamatory even as long poems; it’s more like the pace of a section of a novel. I think of them as vignettes or as their own form …

    Maybe just “storytelling”? A lot of the pieces on “This American Life” have the kind of compelling power you describe.

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