Between Speech and Deliberate Vision: Poetry in the Nineties

Poetry in the Nineties:

The 1990s saw a fascinating tension between speech-based and visually-driven approaches to poetry. Here's a breakdown of the key points:

Speech-Based Poetry:

  • Continuation of Tradition: This strand emphasized the oral tradition of poetry, focusing on the power of the spoken word and its ability to connect with listeners on an emotional level.
  • Performance Poetry: Gained prominence, using elements of theater and music to enhance the delivery of the poem. Think slam poetry nights and spoken word events.
  • Focus on Language: Explored the possibilities of language itself, employing innovative wordplay, sound structures, and colloquialisms. Language became the "material" of the poem as much as the meaning.

Deliberate Vision of Poetry:

  • Concrete Poetry: This movement used the visual arrangement of words on the page to create meaning. Words were treated as visual elements, forming shapes, patterns, and even pictures.
  • Visual Poetry: Incorporated visual elements like photographs, drawings, and typography to create a multimedia experience. The poem became a visual artwork as well as a piece of writing.
  • Digital Poetry: Emerged with the rise of computers, using hypertext, animation, and sound to create interactive poems that unfolded differently with each encounter.

The Tension:

These approaches weren't necessarily mutually exclusive. Some poets explored the interplay between the two.
  • Speech-based poets might incorporate visual elements into their performance to enhance the experience.
  • Visually-driven poets might still utilize powerful language and wordplay within their visual compositions.

The Context:

The 1990s saw a general emphasis on experimentation and blurring boundaries across artistic disciplines. This fueled the exploration of visual elements in poetry, while the continued popularity of spoken word events showcased the enduring power of the voice.

Further Exploration:

Here are some poets and movements you can explore to learn more:
  • Speech-Based: Amiri Baraka, Wanda Coleman, Gil Scott-Heron (Slam Poetry)
  • Visually-Driven: Emmett Williams (Concrete Poetry), Charles Simic (Visual Poetry), CAConrad (Digital Poetry).