Presentation Details

The Second International Conference on New Directions in the Humanities

The Burden of the Spoken Word Poet: How a Movement Enters the Academy

Jim Coppoc.

The history of American spoken-word poetry is the history of where American poetry went wrong and what it's doing to right itself. Much contemporary American poetry ignores or marginalizes all conventions of sound. The price poets are paying for this "free verse" is their audience. Poetry has become dry and inaccessible, written only for other poets who feign appreciation so as not to embarrass themselves in academic circles.

This is the view of spoken-word poets in the spoken-word vs. the Academy divide. "The Academy," on the other hand, sees itself as protector of modern (and postmodern) conventions of poetry, which do not allow for poems driven by audience rather than established literary standards. The Academy will not budge on this point without an overwhelming mandate by its members. It is the burden of the spoken-word poet then to find a place in contemporary poetry for his or her work, and establish new standards among the Academy's members.

This can only be done by combining a historical perspective with an appreciation for oral prosody, as well as finding a useful place in literary and critical pedagogy for spoken word to function. This paper does just that.


Jim Coppoc  (United States)
Graduate Student
Department of English College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
Iowa State University

Jim Coppoc is a 28-year-old father, husband, poet, teacher, and truck driver (in that order) living in Ames, IA. Jim has had more than forty poems published, as well as two chapbooks and two plays, and his first spoken-word album, "Sex, Poetry, and the Open Road," is due out next month on BiFi Records. Jim has also recently received a FOCUS grant from Iowa State University to edit an anthology of spoken-word/literary fusion poetry in the Midwest. Over the years, Jim has done standup comedy at venues like New York Strip, Live! and Caroline's in the City, played folk guitar all over the United States, hosted a syndicated pop-alternative radio show, co-founded the only current working Shakespearian troupe in Iowa, and appeared in more than a dozen plays and musicals. He currently runs the Bohemian Poetry Slam in Ames, and he has been featured at dozens of other slams, university readings, and open mikes around the Midwest.

  • spoken word
  • poetry
  • slam
  • academy
  • pedagogy
  • literature
  • english
  • american

(Virtual Presentation, English)