Spoken word poetry

Wednesday, April 19, 2017
by Sabrina Guillen

English is an evolving field. The mediums in which it manifests itself have grown numerously and have shown different trends of popularity. In the times of Shakespeare, older prose and plays were very modern, whereas today novels and spoken word poetry seem more prevalent. That might mostly stem from the fact that we live in the Information Age and that expression is the new frontier. Everyone has the ability to create and put their ideas out there into the world. One very modern way of doing so, which has found its way into popular media, is spoken word. While this form has existed as far back as Ancient Greece, it seems to have garnered a larger following recently. Perhaps for many people English seems rigid, especially old prose, and thus through spoken word, live performances and stream of consciousness poems can be combined. This becomes very compelling and gripping as emotion can be portrayed more easily.

But what makes spoken word so different from simply reading poetry aloud? In a sense, the two can be very similar. Where they differentiate, is that spoken word poetry focuses on intonation, stress, sounds, and generally spoken words as an art. This genre is well suited for emotional and personal poems as well as social commentaries, as the audience can feel much more engaged with a performance. Most spoken poetry is very hard to read. Its meaning and quality can often be lost if the poet is not there to perform it for you. An example of this phenomena can be seen below. This is a spoken word poem that I wrote. Try reading it and imagine how it would come across more powerful if it were performed:

In The Shadows

A hint of vanilla,

A drop of sweet smiles,

And a night well spent:

I taste that on your lips

I taste them . . .

I can see it in the way you look at me,

Like a child disappointed with its broken toy,

Like you’re looking right through me –

Looking at them . . .

I’m sitting here at our dining room table,

Our child is pushing his peas around his plate.

You were supposed to be here an hour ago,

But I’m not surprised –

I can’t be,

This is the third time this week.

Our son grows restless,

And my anxiety is bubbling inside of me.

I try to put on a show for him,

I try, I try, I TRY!!

They’re just running late – held up at work

The usual excuse.

But he knows,

And I know,

That this game we play, this charade –

It’s more for me than him.

He has already given up.

This ring on my fourth finger burns, itches - bites me

A lone light on the table casts a cryptic glow;

It is the one light I leave on for you:

When the dishes are cleared,

When our son is tucked into bed,

When my body goes stiff from waiting at the window,

The light still burns.

I want to get up. I want to tear this ring from my finger,

Rip open the front door and toss it out,

Like clearing a binder full of papers,

Like emptying a carton of spoiled milk,

Like a child finished with their toy,

But that brings it all back:

I am the toy . . .

I deserve an apology, an explanation,

All I get is a marriage where we go through the motions.

I’m sick of listening to your

3, 4, 5

Unfinished voicemails,

Of watching you fill up the garbage each week with your wilted flowers,

Of staring into an empty glass in the kitchen a 4 in the morning,

Because I can’t stand to share a bed with you;

To be touched by you.

When our son wakes up to find me there,

As if he can somehow hear the screaming in my head,

From all the way upstairs,

I turn the light on for him,

And try to smile,

And tell him it’s ok,

That there’s not a stranger in my bed,

And I lie, and lie,



And kick myself,

Because I hate that I lie to him,

Because when I do,

I feel like someone has who has pocketed the 8 ball,

Only to watch the white ball fall in afterwards,

And I can’t help notice the light burns more harshly,

Like it knows I’m covering for you,

Like it’s not the lamp that banishes the shadows,

But that the shadows tolerate the light,

Because it’s what keeps me here.

But I give into you every time,

Because I am still the fool that took you to the dance,

I am still lost in your eyes -

I am still lost in my love for you.

You aren’t lost in me though – you haven’t been for awhile now.

I drowned you in my love,

And forced you to seek shelter in the arms of another.

You’re busy making new memories with them and casting aside our old ones.

The idea of someone else being yours sickens me –

But it is a sickness I suppress for the odd moment:

When I glimpse a genuine smile spreading across your face,

When you play make believe with our son,

Or when you kiss me –

Kiss them . . .

You’re not kissing me, you’re kissing them,

I’m left with this lamp and table,

And our son is upstairs in his bed and he knows he only has one parent –

I am left with nothing.

Half past one . . .

I hear the patter of feet down the steps,

But I don’t turn.

He can’t see me like this, I can’t—

I won’t let him.

This telling silence hangs in the air like a perched rollercoaster, waiting for the plunge.

I try to swallow, but I am parched – parched and starved,

Starved of life,

Starved of love,

Starved of you.

They’re not coming. It’s just us now

What’s this “us”?

I turn to look my son in the face,

Searching for something he knows that I missed,

But I see nothing.

Is that it?

I put on my armour

And I shut you out?

I grab his hand, leading him to the stairs.

The house is silent

The light is out.

English has a kaleidoscope of forms to express its many different conventions. It’s what allows so many people to connect to the same form of expression, regardless of their personal tastes. For me, spoken word brought me back to poetry. I struggled to stick to the old prose taught in high school and felt confined by the rules of the specific forms such as rhyme and meter schemes. The very first spoken word performance video I had ever seen completely changed me. I was awe-struck. I never knew that this entire world of poetry existed that could cater to my interests. After that day, I never looked back.