The art of spoken word, or sometimes considered spoken word poetry, is a style of poetry that is intended for performance. That is not to say spoken word poetry cannot be written down on a page, but the name seems to give away the fact that it is meant to be SPOKEN.
The oral art of spoken word focuses on three main catergories:
Word Play – playful use of words: verbal wit
Voice Inflection – change in pitch or loudness of the voice
When we think about this mode of storytelling, it is easy to think it is modern, yet the when we really dig deep into the thoughts on the subject we can understand that there has been voices before we were able to write things down. In ancient Greece, some of the most knowledgable and well respected people were known by their ability to orally perform poetry in front of crowds. The art of it has been buried beneath many other forms of art communication in our current society, but it is important to see how powerful this medium truly is.
An artist that utilizes spoken word to tell stories is Levi MacAllister, or more commonly know as Levi the Poet. Levi is a performance artist and storyteller that has travelled far an wide performing along side all different combinations of bands in hundreds of unique venues. One time after a show I overheard him talking to someone about a time where he did a performance out of the back of a pickup truck. Levi’s albums are certainly not for people simply looking to be entertained, he seeks to tackle heavy topics such as faith, love, sexuality, mental illness, addiction, abuse, and identity. He pulls from a number of experiences in life, but the one that seems to heavily influence his poetry and lyricism is the story of his father’s suicide. Levi also works with a nonprofit organization called, To Write Love On Her Arms (TWLOHA), where he hoped to provide “sympathetic resource for thousands of individuals who wrestle with depression, self-harm and mental illness.”
Levi’s newest installation of storytelling in the form of spoken word is his latest album, Cataracts. This is his third studio album, which was released on February 23rd, 2018.
- Simul Justus et Peccator
- The Fort Lauderdale Five
- Motion MadeVisible Memories
Arrested In Space
- Big Business (feat. JGivens)
- As Far as the East is from The (Navel to The) West
- Keep Forgiving
This is album that takes more than one listen to fully grasp the intensity and vulnerability of Levi’s words. He’s not looking to paint the pretty picture that takes you to a fairy land of milk and honey. His words seek truth and convict even the best of us and this album speaks in a number of ways to Levi’s wrestling in the faith which can be entirely too relatable for most.
“i have not forgotten your voice and the only thing that it speaks is love and i recognize that because that word never comes to me from me” – Levi the Poet
This album penetrated beyond surface level and at times so convicting it overwhelms, but I think the best way to sum up the album is how Levi himself chose to end the album.
Here are the lyrics for his final track called…
keep forgiving. when all is not what you thought it was. when the lynch mob pulls back the curtain on all that is ferocious and majestical, well we are each of us small men to varying degrees, projecting the great and powerful oz with booming voices so much louder than we are confident.
keep forgiving. when you hate what you loved. i don’t want to be a pendulum swinging from one ivory tower to another. not everyone is competition. i pray for you on the days that i pray for my enemies (the same days that i pray for myself). life tends to beat the binaries out of you. it’s healthy when you and I become we, but we’ve got to
keep forgiving. if you write for everybody, you write for no one. so i write for my friends. i’ve watched all of them grope for understanding like a pipe dream. heard everything they’ve said through eyes watering, wondering if God really hates them as much as they think he does in the deafening, inarticulable silence. their lips are all sealed the same not because they have nothing to say but because none of them know how to say it and neither do i. maybe you can relate.
keep forgiving. that goes for yourself as much as anyone.
keep forgiving. when pledged allegiances poison the body, and civil war breaks out between limbs and you tuck your children into bed at night remembering the way you treated their mother as somehow less than, though you are the offspring of yours without the power to multiply and you would not be here without her, and neither would they. perspective, perspective. and the last shall be first and she deserves every trophy for being your trophy for so long. i’m sorry.
keep forgiving me. this goes both ways, with fingers for pistols firing indictments and blame at celebrities as machines i made, the bullets – sometimes – stand to temporarily tame the bitterness, but it’s still self-medicated anger, and the gun shot residue only fans the flames. i’ve heard you say that fostering the festering pain is a match struck in the forest, and the faintest whisper: enough of a gust to set it ablaze.
keep forgiving. did it set your skin on fire as a boy trying to reconcile how a father could hurt you like that? i used the past like funeral pyre thinking i could burn it away (and tie you to the stake while i’m at it). i wanted to be the broken link in the chain, but when i set the torch to timber, it was i who found myself burning from the inside out, and i see how hell is as here and now as anywhere else.
keep forgiving. have pity. is there a drop of water for my tongue? i used scissors to fork it and spoke blood, spoke blood and tinctured the saliva to serve on a sponge. called it compassion. called it death by love. well, no wonder we’re so hellbent on hanging someone.
keep forgiving. when the disconnect seems to beat the poetry out of you, and the joy isn’t quite there but you can’t quite remember where or why it went, and the lenses protecting your vision continue to cloud and spread reflecting eyes as opaque as the dimly lit mirror they’re doubling up on just for the hell of it – well it was never just for the hell of it, but who really believes that in the midst of the dispersion, or setting a broken bone? the bloodletting felt like murder, but you had to get the poison out of me.
keep forgiving. when we come brandishing swords for the ears of those who spoke to what they should have given over to silence. when i steal the right to vengeance. when i think that i am justified in my anger like holding onto it is doing something other than picking at wounds that i don’t have the scope to see as a cell block – solitarily confined with the pus at neck level.
keep forgiving. when the memories of what was threaten to shut your heart down, and the laughter you can still hear from the mouths of friends who are no longer around make you wish that you could change the channel. if you write for everybody, you write for no one, so this will be for you.
keep forgiving as forgiven. as every pointer finger bent backwards and broken like the moment all of my indictments return to me, and the bullets ricochet straight back in on my gunsights… well this is a small lens from which to view the world.
keep forgiving as forgiven. we don’t always get to wear the white hat. pardon is not always preceded by repentance. in fact, i think it’s exactly the opposite. if it were not for love, i would have never come back.
keep forgiving. you can’t unsee what you’ve seen, but the world is colorful, ferocious and majestic without small men or straw men or me to blow smoke and mirrors from our machinery. the toggle switch is reductionistic. let the pin go. decrease.
hate is a prison.
keep forgiving me.
i’ve told my stories, but they’re yours.
you may never get your apology. on the day you do, it may not mean a thing.
This is storytelling. This is part of Levi’s story. What is your story? And how will you choose to share it?