|Posted on June 2, 2016 at 1:25 PM|
Spoken word (or performance poetry as it’s also known) has been creeping into the public consciousness of late. Thanks to sites such as YouTube and SoundCloud, artists have found a digital platform on which to share their voice and their work. Performers such as Kate Tempest, George the Poet and Jess Green, and festivals such as Glastonbury and The Last Word, have also helped. Performance poetry is fast becoming a staple of the entertainment circuit.
Aside from the obvious entertainment spin that spoken word puts on this traditional form of literature, it’s now being (rightly) recognised for its positive impact on the mental wellbeing of performers. I often hear about new and inspiring ways that the poetic voice is being used to achieve this, engaging with people from all walks of life, across a range of sectors.
I lecture at Bath Spa University. In 2005 we introduced the first ever performance poetry module in the UK. We’ve seen a pattern emerge in terms of the reasons why students choose to study with us – and it’s not simply to further their poetry careers.
In many cases it’s to relieve stress, boost confidence or deal with a variety of mental health problems. One of my students, Kate Jeanes, credits performance poetry for helping her cope with her extreme anxiety disorder. Performing under the name Kathryn O’Driscoll, she tackles her issues head on with her poem,
Don’t look at my legs.
There are other great examples of this. The Spoken Word Education Programme, run by Goldsmiths University and leading performance poetry organisation, Apples and Snakes, uses poetry to raise children’s confidence, self-expression and leadership skills. The spoken word educators – a group of established performance poets – have been running the programme across six London schools for three years. Increased confidence has been noted as one of the key changes among participants. Perhaps, rather than for just a few chosen schools, the practice could be rolled out on a national level.
We’re now seeing many performance poets openly advocating spoken word and how it has helped to transform their lives. As Robert Garnham writes on his personal blog, in a post entitled, How Spoken Word Changed My Life:
I feel incredibly confident now with who I am as a person and how I conduct myself in life, because the experience of going on the stage and performing has seemingly validated the person I am.
As recognition of this value spreads, so does the range of sectors embracing the idea. Complementing conventional medical practices, Brighton Health and Wellbeing Centre now offers performance arts therapy. It’s one of the first NHS practices in the UK to integrate complementary therapies and healing arts.
Spoken word is expressive and free, enabling performers to speak openly and honestly about issues in a controlled and safe environment. The link between the arts and mental wellbeing is by no means a new phenomenon; it has long been recognised. But that’s why it’s so encouraging to see a rise in popularity of spoken word – opening up opportunities for many more people to benefit.
Other universities have followed in our footsteps by setting up performance poetry modules, so together we’re reaching a greater number of young people and helping them to overcome anxieties, fears and barriers.
Long may this growth continue, because if performance poetry continues to heal souls as well as entertain, it will always be a success.
Lucy English is reader in creative writing at Bath Spa University