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EN384 - Writing Out Loud: Slam, spoken word, and performance poetics

This module is an option for all Pathways.

PLEASE NOTE THIS IS A 15 CAT MODULE / also please note that this module is NOT currently being offered

Module Convenor: None at present (2019)

Module Tutor: None at present (2019)

2018/19 Seminars: Monday 3-5pm


“Truly fine poetry must be read aloud. A good poem does not allow itself to be read in a low voice or silently. If we can read it silently, it is not a valid poem: a poem demands pronunciation. Poetry always remembers that it was an oral art before it was a written art. It remembers that it was first song.”
Jorge Luis Borges


This module offers you the opportunity to become both a writer and a critic of performance poetry. The widening of the boundaries of contemporary poetry requires a re-examination of how poetry is approached, particularly regarding popular contemporary spoken word and Slam poetry scenes. By addressing oral traditions, affect transmission, and spatiality in performance we will explore the distinctions which outline the ‘page poetry’ vs ‘stage poetry’ debate. Ultimately we will work together to identify and develop the best approach to analysing spoken word performances. This will create a critical toolbox for assessing performances, and help you to engage with the practical, creative elements of the module. At the end of the module you will be able to compose and perform spoken word poems with increased confidence and reflect critically on the performance of poems as an element of the wider context of international contemporary performance poetry cultures.

Please note you will be expected to perform your poetry in front of the group during workshop and presentation sessions. If this prospect fills you with dread this may not be the module for you. Alternatively it might be just the baptism of fire you need to kickstart your performance poetry career. Alongside the writing of performance poems composition continues through actual performance. During the course of the module you will be encouraged to attend and participate at spoken word events in the local area, including Leamington Spa's own Shoot From the Lip: You will also be encouraged to take field trips further afield, for example Birmingham's Hit the Ode or Bang Said the Gun in London.

Learning Outcomes

  • By the end of the module students should be able to demonstrate detailed knowledge of the international contemporary performance poetry scene and of the history and development of oral poetry.
  • By the end of the module students should be able to articulate an informed perspective on the differences between writing for the page and writing for performance.
  • By the end of the module students should be able to employ a variety of writing styles and techniques to compose a performance poem, demonstrating an awareness of the role of performance and voice as they relate to their own writing practices.
  • By the end of the module students should be able to conduct a nuanced scholarly critique of poetry performances taking into account their composition, affective capacities, and spatial representation.
  • By the end of the module students should be able to demonstrate a sense of their own position in relation to their development as writers and performers, in terms of routes towards professional engagement with various performance poetry scenes.


This module is 100% assessed through coursework, there is no exam option. The assessment requirements are:

1 x 3,000-word essay (50%), 1 x 15 page poetry portfolio (30%). Additionally each student must select one poem of 3-5 minutes from their portfolio to perform in front of the group. Students must then submit 1 x 2,000 word report (20%) reflecting on their composition, their choice of poem from the portfolio, and their performance of the piece itself.

There will be formative assessments each week. These will not affect your final marks, but will help you respond to the summative assessments. Poems written in response to the weekly writing exercises can be included in your portfolio.

(1) Weekly writing exercises to be performed and workshopped during class.

(2) Each student must undertake a presentation / close reading of a performance poem of their choice to be conducted during the seminars. These presentations will help you understand how to approach the 2,000 word report which is part of the formal assessment criteria.


The following is a breakdown of material covered in each seminar. Please note that the order of the seminars and some of the content may change. Sample suggested reading is detailed below.

1). Introduction to performance poetry - Exploring the role of contemporary performance poetry and establishing the practical elements of performance poetry analysis.
2). Orality vs literacy - Analysing the distinctions between spoken word and page poetry in practice, renegotiating the relationship between author and audience.

3). Negotiating affect in performance - Exploring how performance poetry manifests affective responses from an audience (cf. to page poetry) and how we affectively respond to performance poetry in different ways.

4). Spatial relationships in performance - Assessing how space impacts performance and exploring how spaces can be altered through performance including social spaces such as the cafe or the pub.
5). Sound and rhetoric - Analysing sound as a principle of poetic composition, exploring rhythm and metre in performance composition.

7). Slam cultures - Discussing the aesthetics of Slam as a critical sub-genre of performance poetics.
8). Performance and identity - Exploring the cultural politics of spoken word and presentations of identity within the context of poetry performance.

9). Intermedia collaborations and 'publishing' in performance practice - Addressing the changing landscape of contemporary poetics, and how performance can participate in meaningful intermedia collaborations, including the status of performance poets within a contemporary page poetry market.

10). Roundup - In the final session we will review the critical toolbox of analysis we have co-produced and apply it to practical examples. This session will allow students to review their own material in an intensive workshop space.

Suggested Reading

Please note texts of all required reading will be provided.

• Kevin Coval, ed. The BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop (Chicago: Haymarket Books, 2015)
• Susan B. A. Somers-Willett, The Cultural Politics of Slam Poetry (Ann Arbor: U of Michigan P, 2009)
• Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz, Words in Your Face: A Guided Tour Through Twenty Years of the New York City Poetry Slam (Berkeley: Soft Skull Press, 2007)
• Peter Middleton, Distant Reading: Performance, Readership, and Consumption in Contemporary Poetry (Tuscaloosa: U of Alabama P, 2005)
• Teresa Brennan, The Transmission of Affect (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 2004)
• Jacques Ranciere, The Emancipated Spectator (London: Verso, 2011)
• Don Cusic, The Poet as Performer (Lanham: University Press of America, 1991)
• Melissa Gregg and Gregory J. Seigworth, eds. The Affect Theory Reader (Durham: Duke University Press, 2010)
• Susan Stewart, Poetry and the Fate of the Senses (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2002)
• Dana Gioia, Disappearing Ink: Poetry at the End of Print Culture (Minneapolis: Graywolf Press, 2004)
• Peter Kivy, The Performance of Reading: An Essay in the Philosophy of Literature (New Directions in Aesthetics) (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008)
• Walter J. Ong, Orality and Literacy (New Accents) (London: Routledge, 2002)
• Henri Lefebvre, The Production of Space (Oxford: Wiley-Blackwell, 1991)
• Reuven Tsur, Poetic Rhythm: Structure and Performance : an Empirical Study in Cognitive Poetics (Eastbourne: Sussex Academic Press, 2012)
• Mark Eleveld, The Spoken Word Revolution: Slam, Hip Hop and the Poetry of a New Generation (Poetry Speaks Experience) (Naperville: Sourcebooks, Inc, 2005)
• Martin Heidegger, Poetry, Language, Thought (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2013)
• Baz Kershaw, The Politics of Performance: Radical Theatre as Cultural Intervention (London: Routledge, 1992)
• Brandon LaBelle and Christof Migone, eds. Writing Aloud: The Sonics of Language (Los Angeles: Errant Bodies Press, 2001)
• Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Phenomenology of Perception, 1943. Trans. Colin Smith (London and New York: Routledge Classics, 2006)
• Marjorie Perloff, Radical Artifice: Writing Poetry in the Age of Media (Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1994)