Considering spoken word poems, the addition of the voice, the sound, as well as the actions of the performer do add to the poems.  I don’t think, though, that it’s fair to say that the poems cannot be read on a page and stand on their own.  An addition doesn’t necessarily take away from the original.  Just because Jane puts on lipstick doesn’t mean when she take it off her lips disappear.

The works for this week seem strong enough to stand up to having to lay down on paper, all alone and apart from their poets, especially Atlantis by Shane Koyczan.  His delivery of the work his superb, obviously, and in really listening, paying close attention, we as an audience can hear all the images he’s dragging to mind.  I think that a little reading of the work is in order:

‘Your entire body shakes you when laugh,

As if your sense of humor was built on a fault line

And the coast of your heart

Falls into the ocean of yourself

And I’m left looking for this Atlantis.


Left looking for this place

That exists in the stories told by old men

Who were there when mathematics assured them.

Their willingness to believe

Was greater than their determination to dismiss

I’m left looking for Atlantis.


Regardless of the scientist that insists

My efforts would be better spent

Unearthing clues to where the wild things went.


Try as it might,

Faith can’t put a dent fact.

So we must settle for science re-enact the world,

As if the universe was curled around this globe


And if we consider that the universe is never ending

Should they even be evaluated from that perspective?’ (Koyczan)


Above is not the entire work, but it is an example of the ‘lyrics’ to the performance.  It shows that when we take the spoken word and just slap it on the page, it can look a little dull.  I’m pretty sure, though, that what’s pasted in this post isn’t the way that the word would be presented in its written form.  The formatting would probably be all different, the form, the spacing, line breaks a whole bunch of …. To indicate pauses, maybe even stage direction in ().

There’s a couple things that we should consider while thinking about ‘spoken word’ poetry.  Our oral history was (and still is) based on poetry.  Yes, stories were passed down from generation to generation, myths, histories, beliefs, the whole shebang from poet to poet.  It’s easier to remember a story told when it isn’t just plainly spoken prose.  There has to be some pizzazz, some sparkle, some music in the words, something to help them come alive and burn into the memory.  And that’s what poetry is, whether it be burning though a screen or a book or straight from the mouth and tongue of a man I’ve never met but am starting to worship.

The best written poems have a musical, lyrical aspect (not saying that have to be a lyric poem.)  Spoken poems can lose luster if they aren’t performed, interacted with, presented to an audience in more than slideshows and stats.  If they aren’t formatting in such a way as to indicate to the reader where pauses and breaths are living. They lose luster because the poem is no longer living its whole life on the page (where it could be perfectly happy.)  It’s clawing to life and needs to show those around it that life is dynamic.   But that’s true of any poem.  We could take something super well known, like say Nothing Gold Can Stay by Robert Frost.  Take away the formatting and line break, you get this:

‘Nature’s first green is gold, her hardest hue to hold.  Her early leaf’s a flower; but only so an hour. Then leaf subsides to leaf. So Eden sank to grief, so dawn goes down to day. Nothing gold can stay.’

Loses something, doesn’t it?

Additions don’t always mean subtractions or weakness.  Nor is it fair or safe to assume that what we are seeing and reading is exactly the way the performed poem is meant to be presented when turned from speech into type (unless, you know, it’s something official.)  There’s no weakness in speaking a poem and adding to it more than simple sound vibrations.  It’s the practice that humans have used for time immeasurable to entertain, remember, and live forever.


Sarah Ockershausen Delp





Frost, Robert. “Nothing Gold Can Stay.” n.d. Academy of American Poets. Web. 1 Oct 2014. <>.

Koyczan, Shane. “Atlantis.” n.d. Musixmatch. Web. Feb 2017. <;.


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