Meet the Spoken Word Artists Changing the Game
Turbulent times are a breeding ground for poetic expression—think Bob Dylan’s Masters of War, Allen Ginsberg’s Howl, and T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land. The conditions that produced these iconic works—sexual revolution, war, economic crisis, segregation, and gender inequality—are now, in the 21st century, inspiring a new generation of voices to speak out. Here, meet five emerging spoken word artists who are ushering poetry back into the mainstream.
Australia native Alice Eather, an indigenous activist and primary school teacher, uses spoken word to shine light on the issues faced by the Aboriginal population, namely racism and indifference. Her poem My Story is Your Story does just that, expressing the struggle and pain she feels knowing that indigenous voices are often ignored or stifled. “The country covers my skin, and my skin cover this body, and this body has a vessel in this chest that carries messages from my ancestors…” a powerful message among many others of its kind in Eather’s repertoire.
Born in Sudan’s Darfur region, Emtithal Mahmoud’s poems are laced with loss and the horrors of war, but her stage presence, stillness, and measured manner of speaking set her apart from her more vociferous counterparts, while the electrifying emotion and depth of her words shares the same therapeutic quality. In 2015, Mahmoud won the Individual World Poetry Slam Championship for her poems People Like Us and Bullets, in which she speaks about her memories of war-torn Darfur with lines like “Flesh was never meant to dance with silver bullets,” and “My body should be lined with bullets: one for each of my brothers and sisters who stopped a bullet for me.”
This London-born spoken word artist and winner of UK-wide national poetry slam Hammer and Tongue serves up an enticing blend of poetry and hip hop. Tackling issues of race, mental health, cultural appropriation, and his own experiences of growing up in foster care, Solomon O.B’s poems are undoubtedly dark. But his ability to spin stories of struggle in an effortless, often gentle, and vibrant way makes his words at once penetrating and approachable.
Hailing from Minnesota, Danez Smith is well on his way to becoming a household name as far as the spoken word scene is concerned. His blunt, emotionally charged poems chronicle his experiences as a gay black man living in America and are both humorous and heart-wrenching. Smith’s performances have a strong gospel influence and elegantly address issues like the politics of the body, racism, and LGBTQ rights.
Vibrant, fun, and approachable, Londoner Caroline Teague isn’t your stereotypical spoken word artist. She takes a fresh approach to her poetry, relating the universal human experience of love and relationships in a funny and lighthearted fashion. She’s also a winner of the Hammer and Tongue Slam competition, and has recently started Caroline Smiling, a musical project which combines piano, ukulele, and poetry.
Featured image via Solomon Concepts
Stay tuned to Milk for more from emerging artists of all mediums.