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Poetry Is Dead? Long Live Spoken Word! (Conference Panel) (NeMLA 55th Annual Convention)

Boston, Massachusetts
Event: NeMLA 55th Annual Convention
Categories: Graduate Conference, American, Interdisciplinary, British, Genre & Form, Popular Culture, African-American, Colonial, Revolution & Early National, Transcendentalists, 1865-1914, 20th & 21st Century, Medieval, Early Modern & Renaissance, Long 18th Century, Romantics, Victorian, 20th & 21st Century, Adventure & Travel Writing, Children's Literature, Comics & Graphic Novels, Drama, Narratology, Poetry, Aesthetics, Anthropology/Sociology, Classical Studies, Cultural Studies, Environmental Studies, Film, TV, & Media, Food Studies, History, Philosophy
Event Date: 2024-03-07 to 2024-03-10 Abstract Due: 2023-09-30

This is a call for paper for the NeMLA (Northeast Modern Language Association) 2024 panel on spoken word poetry. The convention will take place in Boston from 7th to 10th March 2024. The panel addresses the limited critical engagement with the rich form of spoken word poetry in the UK and US scenes.


Spoken word poetry/poetry performance has been historically overlooked in scholarly discourse on poetry. Things have been changing in the past few decades both in British and American Studies, with seminal works such as Susan B. A. Somers-Willett’s The Cultural Politics of Slam Poetry (2009), Tyler Hoffman’s American Poetry in Performance (2011), and Javon Johnson’s Killing Poetry (2017) in American spoken word discourse, as well as Pete Bearder’s Stage Invasion (2019), and Lucy English and Jack McGowan's Spoken Word in the UK (2021) on the other side of the pond, shedding light on the vital need to engage critically with the field, but the change has been painstakingly slow. Not enough has been done. That, when the genre has been a medium of creative expression for communities marginalised across various socio-economic lines and positionalities for decades. That, when the form emerges out of and is influenced by oral traditions dating back centuries from various cultures across the globe. In fact, one may suspect that the grounds for this lack in engagement can be traced to the genre's increased accessibility, its democratic nature, its countercultural roots, its popularity amongst the marginalised, and its status as a medium of mass appreciation. Rebecca Watts’s 2018 article “The Cult of the Noble Amateur” attacking poets Hollie McNish and Rupi Kaur, prominent voices in both digital poetry and the performance genre, evidences this. The paucity of critical engagement with the genre, hence, is not really a sign of the genre’s inadequacy as an art form, but says a lot about literary criticism’s dated ideas of what “art” or "poetry" is. With the monumental rise and success of organisations such as Apples & Snakes in the UK, and Button Poetry in the US, and prestigious literary prizes such as the Forward prize for poetry now including Poetry Performance as a category, how long will Literary Studies treat spoken word poetry as surplus, as lowbrow, as unworthy of intellectual dialogue and discourse?


Kindly send abstracts of up to 250 words by 30th September 2023 on the NeMLA cfp portal. Link: https://cfplist.com/nemla/Home/S/20353

For any questions or concerns, please reach out to Shefali Banerji (shefali.banerji@univie.ac.at).


Shefali Banerji