Political Poetry: Performances give KU student outlet for social commentary

By Kayla Overbey

Monday, September 24, 2012
Spoken word poetry, an alternative form of self-expression formed in the 1960s and popularized during the Civil Rights Movement, uses spoken performance to add emphasis to messages. Nadia Imafidon, a senior at the University of Kansas from Lawrence, Kan., was introduced to spoken word poetry at a black leadership symposium in high school. Imafidon started writing her own poetry in 2010 and has since performed at various poetry slams.

What is the atmosphere like during a spoken word poetry performance?

Usually in a situation where there’s a lot of heavy material, it’s silent. You can tell there are people in the audience crying. You can tell there are people in awe. There’s comical poetry as well, but even then it’s done to prove a point. There will be times when there’s shouting from the audience. It’s a really freeing atmosphere, I should say. It’s very open and no one really cares what they think of each other. That’s what I like about it. It’s a very judgment-free zone.

How does this poetry differ from other forms of self-expression like rap or creative writing?

I think the biggest difference is that it’s a situation where you have to be vulnerable in front of a lot of people. That’s a huge difference. A lot of people hate being vulnerable and hate sharing stories from their past and personal lives. That’s what spoken word poetry is about. It’s therapeutic in that way, but it’s also horrifying.

What attracts people to spoken word poetry?

I think the big factor is that spoken word poetry is a really good way of expressing yourself, but in a public manner. I think a lot of people are drawn to it because it’s kind of “hip.” A lot of people compare it to rap or hip-hop because it’s very similar. People might get involved in it because it’s fun to do and fun to listen to.

What should the audience interpret from a performance?

A lot of spoken word poetry is very direct and tells stories from the author’s point of view, but the audience shouldn’t think they know the poet’s life afterward. The slam environment is really about the interaction with the poet. So, if they say something that makes you want to cry, go ahead and cry. If they say something you agree with, or make some gesture to signify their beliefs, participate. It’s all interaction with the poet.

How can this form of expression affect today’s political situation?

I think spoken word poetry brings a lot of awareness. It’s just about delivering information to people. I think it can be effective in the collegiate level just because a lot of students respond to spoken word poetry. So a lot of poets will use political commentary to inform people and help make decisions. A lot of people want to vote, but they have no idea what the platforms are.  Spoken word poetry will get people interested in at least hearing something about the candidate and why they should vote.

Four Must-See Political Poetry Slams:

Wilkine Brutus:

Shane Koyczan:

Dan Halloway:

Team Hawai’i:

(This was posted on the Political Fiber website on September 24, 2012. I’m posting it here to archive my work as a journalist and student writer. Visit the original publication here.)


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