spoken word poetry

"Pointlessly stiff term for poetry read aloud with stand-up comic timing and aggression," said the New York Times in 1994. Renewed interest in The Beats during the early '90s mobilized young poets to display their verbal acuity at coffee bars nationwide. From Venice's Beyond Baroque to New York City's Nuyorican Poets Café and Fez, hungry "wannabeats" entered game-show-like "poetry slams" where audience popularity determines the victor. (Chicago's Green Mill is credited with originating the form in 1986.) The Gap was among the first corporate entities to invoke spoken word, making a minor celebrity out of Max Blagg, the English-born poet featured in a $10 milli on TV ad campaign in 1992. (Adweek later proclaimed the commercials "a raving flop.") Among other spoken word mini-celebs were Reg E. Gaines and Maggie Estep, surly stars of MTV's inter-program "Fightin' Wordz" segments; in 1993 the station staged poetry specials and a tours. There was a boom in spoken word CD releases both old and new, including a three-disk collection by long-time practitioner Henry Rollins; in 1994, Lollapalooza upgraded from spoken-word videos to a dedicated tent.