There is something about being human that compels us to tell stories. Some part of our wiring that drives us to connect with other people through our words, sounds, movements, the tone in our voices. This desperation, this loneliness that exists as a result of us being ignored has crippled people for literally centuries with no outlet other than the pen and page. Nowadays, when it comes to communicating these vast feelings, all you need do is fire up Spotify and find someone who feels vaguely the same as you. Music can add to your melancholy or brighten your life depending on the lyrics and melody. But what if you take away the melody? What if you just have the words to keep you company? There has always been a high-strung debate on whether music is poetry, which artform is better blah blah blah…how about a middle ground you say? Let me introduce you to spoken word. Spoken word has always been seen as somewhat musical, heck, the Greeks, Celts and Vikings told their stories in meter and often times sung them to music. Obviously, we’re not all in togas or longboats talking about pillaging villages or dragons (albeit, Brexiteers seem to do a lot of both but we won’t go into that), we have a new way of interpreting this art, because, like all good art, it develops into something better. So what is classified as good spoken word and why is it relevant now?
Good spoken word is like a good cup of tea.
To start, you need hot water. This is the thing that scalds your heart, makes you want to turn yourself inside out, it’s the problem that needs relieving.
Then you need your teabag. This is your reaction to the problem, you’re explosive colouring of the now murky waters. You squish all of your feelings out, press that damn teabag against the side of that semi-washed mug!
After you have this clusterfuck of emotions out in the world, you need sugar. It sweetens the tortured artistic pain for your listener. It’s the words, the rhythm, the sounds…
Then there’s the milk. It might be the most important ingredient. It’s the part of the poem that says “hey, so the hot water is bad, the tea is clearly showing that I have a lot of feelings, and no matter how much I sugar-coat it, I can’t swallow without a resolution that all things will pass, that the perfect blend of all these things allows people to move on.” That’s the tea on spoken word poetry. But I’d argue, it’s the same recipe for song-writing.
Songwriters also have rather tortured methods of extrapolating their feelings.
Prime example: Taylor Swift (yes, I went there, but bear with me).
Hot Water = Bad Breakups.
Tea = All those super sucky breakup feelings.
Sugar = A super easy chord progression and a toe-tapping tune.
Milk = The bridge + the catchy chorus.
The Cup of Tea / Song = “We Are Never Getting Back Together”.
Boom. Mind blown. Now you can go forth and write. But here’s the thing many people don’t get, if this very simple TEA formula proves that songs can earworm into the brains of popular imagination, then why aren’t we all spitting Emmet Kirwan? One reason I would offer is down to the difficulty of listening to someone and taking in everything they say for long periods of time. Melody assists in this. Just look at any popular spoken word videos in the last four years-I would bet 90% all have some sort of dramatic instrumental in the background, which makes you feel more than just the words. But then again, I’d argue a good piece shouldn’t need music. Another reason is poetry can be hyper-political and when people go to relax, you don’t want to hear about the cataclysmic mess that we’re in, they want to feel happy and instead turn on some brainless mainstream pop radio and rot their brains out. (I’m not shitting on pop, I love pop, I just hate pop radio…) But with reasons like this, we still see the spoken word scene sneak into the world of festivals and opening acts for bigger musicians. In aeons, spoken word hasn’t gone out of fashion, we all need to cathartically yell about something at some stage in our lives and perhaps the artform justifies hurting. It justifies long rambles, short rambles, well-formed rambles and free-formed rambles. It congratulates you on your first love, holds you when it goes sour, but nonetheless, it teaches you to love the feelings you had before. It accepts all voices towards the cause of a common sound for humanity. While on the outset, people aren’t necessarily mad for it, sometimes we all need a cup of tea, to chill us out and remind us that you can deal with pretty much anything, once you have the right blend.