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An Introduction to Spoken Word

by Now Then Sheffield

The only US poet I’ve included on this list, Saul Williams was the first high-profile star of the new wave of spoken word artists that emerged from the American slam scene. I can’t quite remember how I first came upon Saul Williams, but he's always been one of the most interesting voices to come out of that scene. He’s at home on the stage as a poet, musician or actor.

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I first heard Joshua Idehen perform this during the second ever open mic night I performed at, Poetry Unplugged, with friend and Word Life co-founder Kayo Chingonyi at the Poetry Café at Covent Garden. It was the first time I saw the potential of spoken word, and I was blown away by both the writing and the performance of an open-eyed 18 year old. If you enjoy this, he’s also part of a spoken word/music outfit called Benin City.

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Joolz, alongside Salena Godden and John Cooper Clarke, was one of the leading lights of the spoken word scene in the 80s, when performance poets had their books released by mainstream music labels. I love this poem. I first came across Joolz when running poetry events in Bradford and stumbled across this version on Youtube.

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As mentioned before, Salena Godden has definitely earnt her place in the history of the UK spoken word scene, but she remains one of the most vital, funny and raucous performers on the circuit today, as proved by this poem.

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Gerry Potter was very well known on the counter-culture circuit of cabaret and poetry nights across the country when he was performing as his alter ego, Chloe Poems. This poem is more recent, a rant against the Tory government's cuts to the NHS. Gerry’s a strong part of the radical tradition that exists in spoken word.

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Hollie McNish blew up when her poems ‘Mathematics’ and 'Embarrassed’ got picked up by Buzzfeed and Upworthy and started to rack up millions of views. I first came across her with this poem though, a love poem in two languages.

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I saw Scroobius Pip for the first time again at Poetry Unplugged at Covent Garden about two weeks before he released this video. He had the skinniest tie on I’d ever seen and was talking about working at HMV in London. Those days were soon behind him, as this DIY video went viral and helped launch his music outfit with Dan Le Sac.

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Polar Bear was one of the leading voices of the UK spoken word scene when it started to grow about ten years back. This piece shows him at his best, an intimate and moving portrayal of his childhood years, through adulthood and on to parenthood.

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It would be difficult to not include Kate Tempest in any list of spoken word artists, with her meteroic rise to fame since her inclusion in the Mercury Music Prize and sold-out tour of her music/theatre piece, Brand New Ancients. This is one of my favourite pieces from her, ‘War Music’, performed live at Tongue Fu a couple of years back. It's also in her latest poetry collection, Hold Your Own.

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Again, David J is a bit of a hero of the UK spoken word scene. As Kate Tempest once put it, "We are all in David J’s shadow." Sometimes dubbed 'the lyrical pugilist', his dexterity with sounds and different speeds means he sounds at home as a beatboxer and as a poet. I had a great night out with him once in Leeds till 6am after we missed the last train and all the coaches back to Sheffield had sold out because of a Foo Fighters gig. That's a story for another time, though.

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by Now Then Sheffield

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