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Performance poetry

Performance poetry is certainly not a modern phenomenon. It begins with the performance of oral epics in Classical times -- necessitated by the difficulty of reproducing written text. All poets of ancient Greece and Rome performed their work before an audience. The art of reading silently was virtually unknown.

The custom was carried forward through the Middle Ages by the troubadors and travelling bards who went from one noble's court or house to another in order to earn their living.

Perhaps the first modern instance in English are lyrical ballads that arose in the Romantic period to tell the story of certain industrial events. Some of these lyrical ballads developed as the 'afterlife' of certain major poets such as Robert Burns and William Wordsworth.

In the 20th century, performance poetry was augmented by poetry readings from poets like Robert Frost. From small gatherings largely academic in nature, poetry readings were given national prominence when Frost was commissioned to write and read "The Gift Outright" at the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. After that event, spoken word recordings of Frost and other major figures enjoyed increased popularity.

Today, poetry readings are widespread at such events as the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival. In the 1990s, the Favorite Poem project of then U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky[?] gave new visibility to ordinary Americans reading and performing their favorite poems.

Contemporary poets are experimenting today with poetry performances adapted to CD, to video, and to web audiences.

See List of performance poets.



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