NeMLA 2024 panel - Poetry Is Dead? Long Live Spoken Word!

deadline for submissions: 
September 30, 2023
full name / name of organization: 
Northeast Modern Language Association / Shefali Banerji (University of Vienna)

This is a call for paper for the NeMLA (Northeast Modern Language Association) 2024 panel on spoken word poetry. The convention will take place in Boston from 7th to 10th March 2024. The panel invite papers that address the rich form of spoken word poetry in any of its manifestations within the UK and US scenes.


Spoken word poetry/poetry performance has been historically overlooked in scholarly discourse on poetry. Things have been changing in the past few decades both in British and American Studies, with seminal works such as Susan B. A. Somers-Willett’s The Cultural Politics of Slam Poetry (2009), Tyler Hoffman’s American Poetry in Performance (2011), and Javon Johnson’s Killing Poetry (2017) in American spoken word discourse, as well as Pete Bearder’s Stage Invasion (2019), and Lucy English and Jack McGowan's Spoken Word in the UK (2021) on the other side of the pond, shedding light on the vital need to engage critically with the field, but the change has been painstakingly slow. Not enough has been done. That, when the genre has been a medium of creative expression for communities marginalised across various socio-economic lines and positionalities for decades. That, when the form emerges out of and is influenced by oral traditions dating back centuries from various cultures across the globe. In fact, one may suspect that the grounds for this lack in engagement can be traced to the genre's increased accessibility, its democratic nature, its countercultural roots, its popularity amongst the marginalised, and its status as a medium of mass appreciation. Rebecca Watts’s 2018 article “The Cult of the Noble Amateur” attacking poets Hollie McNish and Rupi Kaur, prominent voices in both digital poetry and the performance genre, evidences this. The paucity of critical engagement with the genre, hence, is not really a sign of the genre’s inadequacy as an art form, but says a lot about literary criticism’s dated ideas of what “art” or "poetry" is. With the monumental rise and success of organisations such as Apples & Snakes in the UK, and Button Poetry in the US, and prestigious literary prizes such as the Forward prize for poetry now including Poetry Performance as a category, how long will Literary Studies treat spoken word poetry as surplus, as lowbrow, as unworthy of intellectual dialogue and discourse?

This panel invites papers that critically engage with the rise of spoken word poetry in the Anglophone world, with special emphasis on the UK and/or the US, engaging with the form's development, studying its popularity, and investigating the politics of its status as "surplus of" or "less than" print poetry.

Possible topics may include but are not limited to:

> Transnational exchanges: Spoken word poetry and artistic collaborations between the UK and the US

> Intermediality of poetry performance: How are poets reinventing spoken word poetry by incorporating various performance aesthetics into their practice?

> Counterculture, activist roots and the politics of recognition

> Aspirations: What does the future of spoken word look like in the UK and the US

> Digital poetry performance and its scope in a post-pandemic world


Kindly send abstracts of up to 250 words by 30th September 2023 on the NeMLA cfp portal. Link:


For any questions or concerns, please contact Shefali Banerji (