Spoken-word poetry, also known as slam poetry, is a type of poetic expression written and performed for an audience. Because they are performed, the poets tend to focus on the rhythm, musicality, and emotional impact of their poems. This type of poetic expression has been weaved into the American arts scene since the 1980s when open-mic performances in cafes became popular in big cities across the nation. Since then, spoken-word poetry has grown in popularity, giving rise to annual competitions such as the National Poetry Slam and the Women of the World Poetry Slam. These competitions attract hundreds of people from all different backgrounds and who have very different experiences and outlooks on life. What brings these poets share in common is that they each have a story to tell and a voice to be heard.
Spoken-word poetry is known for being appealing to people of different cultures, age groups, and educational backgrounds because it does not necessarily have a scripted style. A slam poem is what the writer wants it to be. With this in mind, we can then turn to the question, What role might spoken-word poetry play in the life of a Latina girl?
“I think spoken-word poetry attracts each Latina’s generation differently. For example, my mother was the first to come to this country with only an elementary educational background…for her the art may be beautiful, but sometimes she’ll question the boldness of the topic I choose to speak on,” says 19-year-old poet Selena Martinez who has been writing since she was 13.
Like many young spoken-word poets, Selena turns to poetry to express her feelings and thoughts about certain experiences in her life that have brought her grief, happiness, and even questions that seem unanswerable. Selena suggests that the generational differences within a Latino family are also something she has found worth speaking about because these differences can sometimes be marked as obstacles to overcome. She says, “[In] a household such as mine…men embraced the machismo and women stuck to the cultural norms. I think spoken-word is a way to help us evolve beyond those expectations to voice stories that [need] to be heard.”
Another young Latina poet, Sofi Chavez, age 19, acknowledges that she too looks to writing in order to makes sense of her life experiences. “[It] was amazing because I could turn something negative and sad into an experience that I was proud of, and something that I did for myself,” states Sofi as she reflects on her first open-mic performance, which revolved around a poem that was initially inspired by angry feelings. However, Sofi is proud that she is able to draw from these emotions and create something beautiful that others can appreciate as well.
When it comes to creative expression and performance, there is always the question of who or what can be identified as the inspiration. Both Selena and Sofi make it known that relatives of theirs originally inspired them to write and perform, for Selena it was her cousin and for Sofi, her sister. However, the situation varies for each young Latina writer. For instance, a great many young writers who have taken on spoken-word poetry have noted that they found out about this style of poetry mostly from peers and/or YouTube. It has come to the point where hundreds of videos of world-famous slam poem performances have been posted on YouTube and can be watched by virtually anyone. One Latina spoken-word poet whose YouTube videos have likely served as inspiration for countless Latina writers is Denice Frohman. Frohman began performing in college in the early 2000s and is best known for winning the 2013 Women of the World Poetry Slam. A performance of Frohman’s poem “Accents” was recorded and uploaded onto YouTube, and this video alone has received over 180,000 views in the past two years. Latinas across the country have sung praises for Frohman and been inspired by the way she so boldly speaks about her culture and family.
Selena Martinez adds on a young adult’s perspective, commenting on the personal growth that one may experiences as a result of practicing spoken-word: “When people can challenge norms, propose unusual questions and express it with all their body, confidence begins to grow…your character transforms mentally, spiritually, and physically. There’s no way you’ll ever be the same person again.”
“Write even when you think you have nothing special to say…The only way you’ll get to the poem that you’re proud of is to practice,” advises Sofi, who acknowledges that she still has a lot to learn about writing and performing, but is not going to let that stop her from putting herself out there. It is evident that these women practice poetry not only to empower themselves but to send an empowering message to their audienceas well. Finding the strength in one’s voice is one of the main reasons why these women chose to practice spoken-word poetry and encourage others to do so.