The Spoken Word in Wales

Welsh Performance Poetry

Performance poetry can be defined as spoken word which is intended to appeal to a live audience. With a current slant towards the US style events of ‘Slam Poetry’, it is an art form which is adaptable and fluid. Enjoying a particularly popular time, performance poetry is  gaining acceptance in the mainstream open mic nights, previously reserved for musicians and singers.

Awards such as The John Tripp Award for Spoken Poetry offers prizes to Welsh performance poets help establish and maintain the art. Also poets such as Clare Potter, Mab Jones and Rhian Edwards whose vibrant performances keep it moving forward. It is a skill to perform well, with timing, self-confidence and stage presence which can be hard to craft. Many poets also memorise their work or even add music. You can find out about spoken words event and courses from Literature Wales here.

Of course, breakthrough mainstream poets such as Kate Tempest, George the Poet and John Cooper Clarke are gaining large media followings but performance poetry has been important in Wales for a lot longer than some might think.

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History of Spoken Word in Wales

The earliest Welsh poetry is dated at 580 and was written by the poets Aneirin and Taliesin. It talks of battles and fighting between the Welsh and the English invaders. They were, along with their contemporaries, to become known as ‘The Early Poets’, Y Cynfeirdd .

Bloodshed was to be a common topic and often featured in later work too. Between 1100-1300 ‘The Poets of the Princes’, Beirdd y Tywysogion, would perform at the courts of the independent Welsh princes and speak of epic battles with the English. The Hendregadredd manuscript, with is now held at the National Library of Wales after being found in cupboard in 1910, anthologised much of the 12th and 13th century writing.

From 1300-1500, after the defeat by the hands of the English, working poets became ‘Poets of Nobility’, Cywyddwyr, and switched their themes from religion and war to nature or romance. Performances for the Norman Lords under English rule would be personally written to include the history of the Lord’s family, his ancestors, and his generosity, often to the accompaniment of a harp. These performers were often members of the Guild of Poets which required an apprenticeship of nine years and had its own rule book, as well as recommend payments for poets.

However, poets did exist outside of the employment of the houses and other themes were taken up, such as politics and a ‘man of destiny’ who would apparently arrive to free them from their oppressors. The craft has survived through the moment of turmoil, unrest and war, not to mention the introduction of the printing press, to be represented at spoken word events, including the Eisteddofd, in Wales today.

If you host or know of a spoken word event, please let us know about it in the comment box below. Or you can tweet it to us at @welshwriterstrust

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