Culture

10 spoken word performances, folded like lyrical origami

Posted by: Kate Torgovnick May

Spoken word artist Lemon Andersen begins today’s talk with the poem, “Please Don’t Take My Air Jordans,” written by Reg E. Gaines in 1994.

My Air Jordans cost a hundred with tax.
My suede Starter jacket says Raiders on the back.
I’m stylin’, smilin’ looking real mean,
Cause it ain’t about bein’ heard.
Just about bein’ seen.

For Andersen, hearing this poem was a click moment. As he shares in today’s talk, given at TEDYouth 2011, this poem showed him the power of spoken word. After hearing it, he began following Gaines obsessively.

“I thought poetry was just self expression,” explains Andersen. “[Gaines] handed me a black-and-white printed out thesis on a poet named Etheridge Knight and ‘The Aural Nature of Poetry’ … What Etheridge Knight taught me was that I can make my words sound like music. Even my smalls ones, the monosyllables — the ifs, ands, buts, whats. The gangsta in my slang could fall right on the ear.”

To hear Andersen tell his story with beautiful lyrical flow, watch his talk. After the jump, some others who’ve performed spoken word on the TED stage.

Rives remixes TED2006
Rives’ poem “Mockingbird” is never the same twice. At TED2006, he freestyles a recap of the entire conference with his mockingbird’s lullaby.

Sarah Kay: If I should have a daughter
This performance from Sarah Kay got two standing ovations at TED2011. Listen as she shares her poems “B” and “Hiroshima,” and explains how “tricking” teenagers into writing poetry can help them connect with their inner lives and with each other.

Franny Choi: Pop goes Korea!
At TEDxBoston, Franny Choi throws fast-flung words about Korean drinking games, Choco-Pies, karaoke, plastic surgery and Hello Kitty.

Rives: The 4 a.m. mystery
What is it about 4 o’clock in the morning? In this performance from TED2007, Rives combines words, video and music, spinning a lyrical look at this witching hour.

Sarah Kay: How many lives can you live
“The astronaut will not be at work today. He has called in sick. He has turned off his cell phone, his laptop, his pager, his alarm clock,” says Sarah Kay in this performance from TEDxEast, all about how storytelling can help us slow down and experience life.

Taylor Mali: What teachers make
The poem that Taylor Mali performs in this talk, given at the Bowery Poetry Club, has three titles. You can call it “What teachers make” or “Objection overruled” or “If things don’t work out you can always go to law school.”

Marion Carey: About Time
In this spoken word performance from TEDxBoston, Marion Carey ruminates on our clockwork-like existence. All this while solving a Rubik’s Cube.

Rives: If I controlled the Internet …
In one of the shortest talks of all time, Rives performs a three-minute poem about how he would change the internet. A sample: “If I controlled the internet, you could auction your broken heart on eBay…”

Adam A. Andersen: Me, in verse
Adam A. Anderson wanted to be an architect as a kid, but ended up in the performing arts. In this talk from TEDxSMU, he shares how verse satisfied his desire to express himself.

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