A vital field of poetic production, the spoken word has experienced a noticeable boom for more than half a century. Movements such as Beat poetry, jazz poetry, and poetry slam have given rise to extensive performance scenes in the English-speaking poetry world that have received a further boost from the possibilities of multi-media publication, especially on the world-wide web.
This project investigates the significance of poetry performance to recent British literary history, taking account of the aesthetic and semantic potential of oral performance, of the alternative institutional structures, publication channels, career pathways, presentational formats, styles, and poetic genres that have emerged from the performance scene. It opens a vital new chapter of British literary history and provides, at the same time, a prototype and toolkit for a new branch of historical-literary research beyond the British context.
Drawing on, and contributing to, the recent digital SpokenWordArchive.org.uk, we will produce a survey of the history of British poetry performance as well as in-depth studies on intersections of literary and performance traditions, on black British spoken-word poetry, the British poetry slam, and the spoken-word play. On the meta-level, a core aim of the project is to create an elaborate theoretical and methodological framework for interpreting our findings and to develop a novel approach to poetry performance historiography. Revealing the vital role of oral performance in the history of poetry and providing new sources, the necessary methods, and a forum for its study, the project will lay essential ground work for establishing poetry performance research as a recognised branch of historico-literary enquiry.
Start: July 2021