Poetry Off the Page (PoP) will reveal an alternative ‘literary’ history of the period 1965-2020 by shifting the focus from the written to the spoken word. It will launch a new interdisciplinary methodology for studying poetry’s oral mode and firmly establish poetry performance research as a global discipline. Its central question is how spoken-word poetry’s semantics of presence and embodiment have shaped the “meaning” and functions of poetry, within and across national boundaries. PoP acknowledges that poetry performance upsets the traditional text/context distinction of literary studies. Embracing a double focus on the aesthetics of spoken word and the institutional and media infrastructures in which poetry performance has thrived, PoP will capture the formal innovations and cultural work of poetry performance, its functions as a form of public address, as well as its relation to received literary history (e.g. “de-colonising” and “gendering” the canon). Moreover, the project will highlight the much-neglected transnational aspects of oral performance that are of vital significance especially with regard to emerging communications technologies and postcolonial positionalities. More broadly, PoP critically investigates the role of orality in literate cultures at the crossroads of self-performance, community-building, and their technological mediation.
The three methodological pillars of the PoP project are archival research, close listening/viewing aided by digital humanities tools, and qualitative interviews with performance practitioners (poets, spoken-word agents, programmers, producers). On the meta-level, we will create a sophisticated theoretical and methodological framework for interpreting our findings – informed by disciplines such as sound studies, persona studies, life-writing studies, and performance studies, and including sociological constellation analysis and Actor-Network Theory – so as to lay a sound foundation for future scholarship in this field.
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