A page from the "Poetry through the Ages" exhibit...

font size:  a  a  a

Performance poetry uses the stage as the page, transforming poetry readings into theatrical events. While the recent resurgence of performance poets is seen as a reaction against mainstream, print-based poetry, the style harkens back to the classic role of the poet, who recited notable happenings, emotions, and perceptions.

And while traditional poems utilized standard structures, in part to serve as mnemonic devices, contemporary performance poetry calls upon experimental rhythms as a means to engage an audience in the listening experience.

The recent growth of performance poetry can be attributed to the popularity of slam, a self-identified movement dedicated to creating real-time discourse between performer and audience. While poetry slam cannot be categorized like a sonnet or a haiku, any form or style of poetry can be turned into slam by virtue of the poet’s performance on stage. This inclusive art form invites all people to participate, whether as a poet, audience member, or judge.




Varied; some varieties of spoken word rely on improvisation.


Crucial, but performance poets challenge themselves to adhere their language to innovative rhythmic structures.

Common Themes:

While performance poems capture a wide range of themes, many pieces focus on social and political critique.