The Movement of Spoken Word Poetry vs Written Traditional Poetry



The following paper gives an overview of the oral tradition and poetry in black culture. The title of Maya Angelou’s book I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, is based upon the poem Sympathy by Paul Laurence Dunbar—who was a famous Black writer and poet who educated himself during slavery, and was a very learned man.&nbsp. He wrote, “I know what the caged bird feels, alas!&nbsp. When the sun is bright on the upland slopes. 
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass, And the river flows like a stream of glass…the faint perfume from [the flower bud’s] chalice steals—I know what the caged bird feels!”&nbsp. Angelou recounts in her book the many trials and problems she had to face as a young African-American girl growing up in America at a time when Jim Crow laws were still in effect.&nbsp. She had to suffer many injustices as a young girl at the hands of white employers, doing the best she could without trying to get into trouble. Oral tradition, is, in Black culture, a statement about where someone is in life, and what that person’s status is.&nbsp. In olden days in Africa, there used to be one griot in every town, and he would keep the oral history of the town alive to pass on down to other generations. usually a family member of the griot would become the next griot.&nbsp. During the Harlem Renaissance especially, African-Americans started delving into their roots and realizing what was important to them. &nbsp.A kind of ‘urban griot’ developed, talking about the conditions of living in abject poverty and so forth. For example, Amiri Baraka (also known by his pen name LeRoi Jones) says, “Lately, I’ve become accustomed to the way/The ground opens up and envelopes me/Each time I go out to walk the dog./Or the broad edged silly music the wind/Makes when I run for a bus…/Things have come to that.”2 One can feel the pain in his writing, as though one were feeling the same pain oneself. This is the purpose of a modern, urban griot—to tell the story of the average Black American as seen through one’s own eyes, living in the city and trying to make a living. This is a feeling that many people can and did identify with, even though they might not have necessarily been Black Americans. They could identify with struggle, and that is a very human element to have to deal with in this life. Then, there was also the amazing Gwendolyn Brooks, who combined the griot tradition with a bluesy type of rhythm to it. “Brooks brought to modern American poetry her own peculiar sensibility which manifests at once the embodiment of both Wallace Stevens’s blue guitar and the African griot’s drum.”3 Then, there is another dynamic poet, Nikki Giovanni, who definitely brings out several different kinds of essences with her work. She is a master wordsmith, ensuring that no syllable, no problematic enigma gets past her. She is continually writing short little poems that make little lightning bolts in one’s brain, enervating a very primitive part of the reader. “In her poem Ego-Tripping, Nikki Giovanni writes, ‘I am a gazelle so swift/So swift you can’t catch me.’ The image lingers, for Miss Giovanni resembles a gazelle, with her topaz skin, lustrous eyes, and nervous grace.”