in Epistles, Notes on Sound Art

Spoken Word

                                       May 22, 2018

Dear Ali,

“buddhamind what happened?”

– John Giorno, I resigned myself to being here… (4’50”)

I see a note about you.

“A. asked us about spoken word at workshop this month.
I can’t go to her reading tonight.
I should talk to her tomorrow at Aimee’s
and tell her that I would like to talk to her class about
recorded poetry.”

Does anyone besides the Library of Congress remember what “spoken word” meant? Words change.
(Is there a word for the origin and evolution of phrases? Do we say “etymology” or something else? I don’t know, but I know that terms and phrases can go through many generations in a few years now. I remember that in 1997, barely 20 years ago, an “app” meant fried calamari; now it means a computer program for your smart phone or tablet.)
“Spoken Word” is a term that has quickly evolved, obscuring its past with new connotations. (See OED 1.d.)

d. the spoken word, speech (as opposed to written language, etc.), esp. in the context of radio broadcasting.

1961   Listener 28 Sept. 456/1   One criticism that has been made of spoken-word material in the Third is that it has sometimes been too esoteric.

Before it meant rhythmic poetry, performed live on stage, “spoken word” indicated a category for records. Before there were “spoken word poets” there were “spoken word recordings” which were, for the most part, speeches, the art of statesmen and toastmasters. I remember at my college radio station there was a section called “Spoken Word”, which included speeches of Douglas MacArthur and other generals and readings by Allen Ginsberg and other poets.

If you invited me to give a guest lecture to your “Spoken Word” class, I would begin my talk about recorded poetry with the distinction between records and tapes. Vinyl Records were pressed, identical, from a single source. Authoritative by nature. Authoritarian by association. Indexed and citable. Tape disrupted. Cut tape “cut word lines.

We could listen to records from The Last Poets and Dial-a-Poem, and have a little intro to sound poetry (“God Save Mr. Smith”!) I would talk to your class about poets publishing tapes, and poets working with words on tape. I would make sure they know about all that they can hear on ubu.

Is that relevant to your question about spoken word? If it is, well, I would love to come give a guest lecture!

See you at workshop!


ps: Why hasn’t the mashup/kenning/contraction spokenword taken off? Why does the space endure?

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