Posted: November 23, 2013 in Uncategorized



 I reproduce yet another extract from  my online project, Epistles To A Young Poet.  I need this and the other one to be here because of  a future essay.





 Dear friend,

Poetry and spoken word artistry are two different art genres. By form, poetry is verse structured on paper and spoken is

a performance art. I admit there is a thin line between the two. For the purpose of argument, I will introduce a new term,

PERFORMANCE POETRY (new in its restrictive definition).

Historically, Ancient Greeks have been recorded to have performed poetry at various events including the Olympic

Games. One of such is the poetry type called Ode. Somewhere in the 1900’s saw the rise of the Civil Rights Movement

with powerful speakers such as Dr. Martin Luther King, famous for his I HAVE A DREAM speech. These two examples are

performance arts. But are they the same in substance?

As I have already indicated, poetry is structured on paper but there are some that have a lyric tone that you almost see

yourself performing it as you read.  This is easily seen in the Great Shakespeare’s sonnets. I quote from SONNET

NUMBER 18.                                         

                                   ‘’ Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

                                     Thou art more lovely and

                                     More temperate

                                    Rough winds do shake the

                                   Darling buds of May,

                                   And summer’s lease hath all

                                  too short a date.’’

My second example is a quote from Maya Angelou’s Phenomenal Woman

                                   ‘’ Pretty women wonder where my secret lies.

                                     I’m not cute or belt to suit a fashion model’s size

                                      But when I start to tell them,

                                      They think I’m telling lies

                                       I say,

                                      It’s in the reach of my arms,

                                      The span of my hips,

                                     The stride of my step,

                                      The curl of my hips

                                     I’m a woman


                                     Phenomenal woman,

                                      That’s me.’’

My third example is a quote from ‘Songs from the Battlefield’ by Nana Asaase.

                                  “Awe, bleoo!

                                 We have brought our tears in baskets

                                 To quench your faces on your journey into limbo

                                 Anyemi, bleoo!

                                 Your cock now crows at noon

                                 But there is no one to wake and offer grain

                                 Onua, due ne amanehunu’’

These are classical examples of poetry. Should it be called SPOKEN WORD because it is performed? I do not think so.

These together with what the Ancient Greeks did are what I call PERFORMANCE POETRY. The mere fact that it has

transcended its abode being the page means it has entered into a new realm of arts. Typical of what Derek Walcott

described as ‘’ Theatre literature’’ his Paris Review interview with Edward Hirsch (Derek Walcott, The Art of Poetry No. 37)                                                                                                                                                                 

This is different  from Spoken Word. I quote from a transcript on  dotsub for Sarah Kay’s, ‘IF I SHOULD HAVE A DAUGHTER,’

“if I should have a daughter, instead of ‘’Mom,’’ she’s gonna call me ‘’Point B’’, because that way she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me.”


If this is the original text that Sarah wrote, then I am certain this is not poetry but prose. I have observed similar line of

presentation in even Ghana’s spoken word scene.  I am not saying prose poetry is not poetry, no.  I heard one piece

from Psalm One where he made use of an extensive simile, playing around football players’ names and football clubs.

Somewhere, I heard a piece where words were forced in clearly to continue what the artist perceived as ‘’ rhyming

scheme’’. Other powerful examples of spoken word apart from Dr. King’s I Have A Dream are Ruman Henry’s I Will Not Let

An Exam Result Decide My Future and the Strivers’ Row. Even though some spoken word are versed, the odd feeling of it

being spoken word comes along as observed  by  blogger  and poet, Nana Fredua-Agyeman in his review of  Breaking

Silence where he singled out  Kwame, Write’s Neggar In The Head as more of spoken word than poetry.

Defining spoken word has always been difficult because it is also an art that makes use of  literary devices. The ear, I

feel is the best judge of the arts.  People like Mutombo, Sir Black, Kwaku Sonny, Chief Momeen, Poetra, and Miss Ndabi

for me are typical spoken word artists- geniuses at what they do.

The line becomes blurred when I hear the works of people like Daniel Kojo Appiah, Nana Asaase, Crystal Fanantenana

Ranaivo-Tettey, Selikem Tenu Geni and  Elikplim Akorli on stage. I would prefer to hear their works before commenting.

I am well aware of an essay written by my senior, both in thoughts and the arts, Darko Antwi titled Oral Escapades: The

Rise and Trials of Ghana’s Spoken Word in which he asserted that spoken word is the same as poetry. I beg to differ with

my senior. My close interrogation of what he sought to push as his reasons seems to me as justification as such not

because of its rudiments but of intent and purpose. That I do not think suffice for justification. `I agree with William Saint

George in his short essay, Spoken Word Is NOT Poetry even though I think his words were harsh.

In my view, poetry is different from the performance arts which sub-divide into performance poetry and spoken word.

This, if not for anything will save spoken word from brutal attacks by poetry critics and make us see the beauty of this

art. Somehow, it will carve its rudiments and some of us will critique based on that. Yes my friend, hopefully.  I wish you well in your journey.                     


In Comradeship,








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