Why We All Need to Experience Spoken Word

Recently I went to a spoken word event on San Diego State University’s campus. The theme was struggle, which is very topical given the current social and political climate. One piece by the Elevated! Poetry Slam Team caught my eye. “Islamophobia” is a very powerful performance; it’s hard not to be moved by it. Yet, it does more than just make you feel a strong emotion, it also makes you contemplate the theme with more depth.

Poetry and music have been ways for people to talk about their struggles and pains. Spoken word poetry is just one avenue for disenfranchised and minority voices to vocalize their truths. One of the most powerful aspects is that it is a performance (usually) happening live, right in front of you. This aspect makes it one of the more vulnerable art forms. There is nothing to hide behind; it is just a direct connection between the poet and the audience.

But, spoken word is more than just a performance, it is also activism. As I’m sure we’re all aware, we live in a contentious time. Many of us do not feel safe, for a variety of different reasons. Yet when you go to a spoken word event, there is a welcoming air. At least in this space, it is alright to become vulnerable and get political.

How could you watch “Islamophobia” and not be moved in some way? The anger and pain is heartbreaking, I cried seeing it performed live. Regardless of your opinions on Black Lives Matter, the injustices brought up can’t be ignored. They make themselves heard. The audience (or YouTube viewer) has to pay attention to the unified voices. We can’t ignore what they are saying, and it’s not exactly something that can be easily digested. It’s something that sits in us, gnawing away, because those emotions are real. Just like the vulnerability that is shared on stage, the audience too has to be a bit vulnerable.

I’ve never performed. I’ve only been a part of the audience. As important as it is to voice our struggles and pain, it is equally important to listen. Spoken word allows for the poet to be heard and demands that they will not be ignored. As an audience member, we can’t let this just go in one ear and out the other.

The ideas and experiences shared have to really be understood. Let yourself cry and feel! It will really make the experience worthwhile. If you allow yourself to be connected and present, a lot can be learned. Maybe in some ways you learn to be a better human, or at least become more empathetic.

If you’ve never been to a spoken word event before, I highly recommend it. At the very least, check out other performances on YouTube where there are many to peruse on your own time. Now more than ever, we need to really listen to other people’s voices, understand them and acknowledge them. So watch it live or on YouTube, maybe even give it a go yourself. Most importantly, make sure that you really are listening. There are important things to be heard.

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