Anyone who has interest in literature may have had a chance to attend a poetry event or a forum where poets freely express their ideas or share their pieces. In such forums, poets read or recite their poems and many times ‘Spoken word’ is used to popularize the forum and get a larger audience. The audience gets to critic the poets and their poems as they enjoy the presentations and in a competition, judges who many times are accomplished poets may be involved. So, on what basis do we judge performance poetry?

I believe that the greatness of any performer- and in this case any poet- lies in their ability to deliver and appeal to their audience. A poet may read a piece and based on their tone, diction and facial expressions, they may gain the approval of the audience compared to a poet who plainly recites their pieces. It is no wonder that even people who do not have great interest in arts enjoy spoken word performances because all they need to do is relate and get engrossed in the performance. It could be easier to perform or recite poems that are rhythmical but any good poet may still engage an audience with a captivating story and minimal rhythm.

One thing that makes poetry performances special is that the poet is able to tell a story how they want it told and they may identify with the audience better other than if the poem was just read on paper. Ideas in poetry are many times expressed in short, sometimes incomplete sentences, and such may make more sense if they are articulated by the poet in the voice and emotion that inspired them. A poet is at liberty to use metaphors, similes, repetition, alliteration and other features of style to enhance the rhythm in a piece but without appropriate performing skills, the performance may be a flop. The skill or ability to naturally blend in the features of style in the lines or verses of a poem and in the general performance has to be cultivated over time. The form of poetry that a poet seeks to explore may also determine how much they incorporate features of style in their pieces. Poems can be classified as formal where they have to abide by certain rules of style and writing or informal where the poet is not limited by any rules.

Though many poets perform their own pieces, there are many poets who have great composition skill but lack the ability, courage or interest in performing. Such are akin to song writers and it is important to applaud them because a good performance sometimes largely depends on the underlying piece. I also think that recitals and reading of poems ought to be judged differently even though they are all means of performing since they require different skill and appeal to different audiences.

So what really defines a great poetry performance? Is it the ability of the performer to use features of style to enhance rhythm in the poem without necessarily telling a story entertaining or is it their ability to entertain and tell a story in verse as opposed to prose without regard to features of style? Should we judge pieces on social or serious issues that are not necessarily entertaining but get the point home on the same platform with pieces that have no teaching but are fun to listen to? Be the judge.