I hate spoken word

Way back in the day, I used to do a little something called forensics. No, it doesn’t have anything to do with CSI and its many children. It was good old speech and debate, with some acting thrown in. Every Saturday, we’d wake up at the crack of dawn to go to some sad little school and perform a 10 minute excerpt from a play or book, dressed in business suits, without the luxury of props or eye contact with our partner. This was called Duo Interpretation. My sister and I did it together. Our first piece was based on the Sefi Atta novel, Everything Good Will Come, a coming-of-age story that we stripped down to become a histrionic tale of rape and sexism. Our second piece, which took us all the way to Nationals in Vegas, was about the Darfur genocide (we milked those tears for all they were worth, baby.)

Anyway, the reason I am telling you this is not to toot my own horn (we were tenth in the nation) or to advocate for forensics (it dramatically helped me master public speaking anxiety), but to lambast spoken word poetry. After two years on the forensics circuit, you quickly realize that spoken word  is more often than not, a cheaper, sloppier, more abstract Dramatic Interpretation (or DI as we called it). 

When forensics pieces were good, you got sucked into the miniature world the actors created.  Good pieces could make you cry, laugh, or do both. ( A lot of the best forensics pieces that I’ve seen don’t appear to be on YouTube, but here’s one to give you a very, very vague idea.)

Anyway, it’s all over now, I don’t do it anymore, but whenever I’m forced to watch spoken word (the prerequisite for every college event with more than ten black people), I think back to my forensics days, and conclude that spoken word sucks (in comparison, but also in general.)


Nobody knows what you are talking about with your abstract imagery and expletive-riddled speech.

Oh, black women are beautiful, you say. Now there’s an original thought on the spoken word circuit.

Homophobia is bad, huh? Again, a gem. You’re really making a difference saying that to some of the most liberal people on the planet.

Spoken word is bad poetry, shouted and occasionally sobbed through, for the cool, conscious set. (Are there exceptions? Yes, but fewer and fewer ones as time goes on.)

Stop now. Stop forever. I leave you with the immortal words of Jay, from the Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl: ‘Rap and poetry had a baby named spoken word. I wish I could abort that baby.”

(the whole episode is good, but it’s really at 7:30, where it gets golden.)


3 Comments on “I hate spoken word”

  1. Sara says:

    Tomi, you are hilarious.

    But Staceyann Chin is incredible.

  2. […] a special batch of dramatic movies that are prime forensics fodder. Sometimes they start off as plays, (Rabbit Hole), other times, they are the work of one dogged […]

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