Spoken Word poetry in South Africa is understood as a genre of poetry which encompasses elements of textuality, musicality and performance, and is currently produced and frequented predominantly by a young, black public, according to Molebatsi and D’Abdon (2007). By means of ethnography, content analysis, and interviews with thirteen poets, this study demonstrates that the genre is used for expressing the life experiences of artists and their communities (Sole, 2008), as well as narrating social ills and concerns, including political, religious and other social experiences. In this sense, it is argued that Spoken Word may be termed as being a contemporary form of liberation politics (Judge, 1993) that is employed to serve a social function beyond directly political aims. This is made visible through the narratives, styles and identifications that distinguish members of this movement. This study provides a description of the scene in Pretoria and Johannesburg, drawing out various features of the movement. The social and political significance of the movement is presented by emphasising the poets’ perspectives on the Spoken Word movement, and engaging in a thematic content analysis of poems under the themes race and politics, gender and sexuality, and religion. International literature is engaged to demonstrate differences and similarities between South Africa’s Spoken Word scene and that of the USA by consulting works of scholars such as Weber (1999), Bruce & Davis (2000) and Hoffman (2001). It is demonstrated that similar to the genre in the USA, South African Spoken Word stresses performance to be an important distinguisher of this type of poetry. Also, in both contexts this art form has links to identity politics of previously marginalized groups. The study presents a similar finding to D’Abdon’s (2014) argument that the narratives presented in the post-apartheid Spoken Word movement greatly reflect Black Consciousness ideology, yet also importantly stresses that the movement also presents discontinuities with this discourse, allowing for a much broader array of narrative to permeate the performance poetry scene. This study makes an additional contribution to the existing literature through its key findings. Firstly, the study argues that although there has been a significant increase of women into the scene, Spoken Word remains a gendered space. Secondly, this study demonstrates that narratives produced by this movement contribute to experiences of community, but also play an exclusionary role to certain groups. Finally, the study illustrates that poets of the present day Spoken Word scene have begun a move towards commercialisation of the art form, subsequently also aiming for the valuation of African literature. In essence, it is argued that the present day Spoken Word poetry movement has great social and cultural value, and presents great potential of being a vehicle through which political and social consciousness can be both created and sustained.
Key words: Spoken Word, poetry, South Africa, oral literature, slam, open mic, post-apartheid, literature, narratives, Black Consciousness, politics, social change, art, liberation poetry, liberation politics, culture, hip-hop, conscious art, resistant political art
Dissertation (MSocSci)--University of Pretoria, 2015.