Just minding my own business one day and looking for something old, literary and Anglo to read (like Burns, Shakespeare or Hardy), I was unexpectedly sideswiped by a group of new poets.
“Spoken word” poets are young, hip and often African American. The form they work with is a hybrid between traditional poetry, hip-hop, song and theater. Although they perform at coffee houses, poetry “slams” and concerts, these poets are increasingly showing up in churches near you.
It’s long past time the church invited performing artists in off the street, as many of them are professing Christians and bear immense talent. They also create a vibrant intersection between traditional worship and secular arts and entertainment, where some Christian poets and rappers now have successful careers.
A few churches cater to these artists, such the Passion for Christ Movement, or P4CM, in the Los Angeles area. P4CM is unique in hosting and creating venues for official “church poets” such as Ezekiel, Janette…IKZ, Jose Palos, Eric Vaughn and Kon-Vert. The Church holds regular events such as their “Lyricist Lounge 5” specifically showcasing their poets.
A few real standouts from P4CM are the poets Blair Wingo and Jackie Hill. I observed Blair performing her piece “I Have Words 4 You” and instantly converted to “spoken word poetry” fandom, then and there:
Blair’s moving, winsome and spiritual works are totally integrated as both art and powerful preaching messages. Her background in acting and modeling is evident as she in interacts with the camera in a natural manner, looking her viewers straight in the in the eye as if pleading. Blair’s work is just lyric enough to have a tidal, musical cadence with tonal inflections and very syncopated rhythm in her phrasing.
Given a headstart through a successful career in several television dramas, Blair is one of the “stars” of the spoken word movement. Acting allowed her to hone the performance aspect of poetry in particular.
Since 2005 Blair has dedicated her skills to Christ, become a full-time student at Master’s College and married recording artist shai linne. Blair’s poetry has been featured on ABC’s Nightline, in various publications, radio shows and the Internet. I personally hope she somehow finds time to keep pumping out new work.
Another stellar poet from P4CM is Jackie Hill, whose poem “A Poem about Weed” had me riveted. Launching into a false start with a conversational, lighthearted manner, Hill switches abruptly into a dark, Satanic persona (as in under the dominion of drugs) throughout her poem. The effect is very dramatic and her phrases don’t need musical background to prop them up unlike some spoken word and rap poetry. This stands on its own in written form:
I am the present hidden under the tree
bet most of you in this room have tried to make
a whore out of me but I have simply pimped
you into choosing my three leaves
over the Trinity
It’s worth watching her video just to see the faces of the audience, their mouths literally dropping in fascination and stretching from the edge of their seats. What will she say next?
At The Vine Church in Porter Ranch, Calif., Pastor Phillip K. Allen Jr. moonlights as a poet. He posts a touching spoken word piece on manhood. You can view his “When I Became a Man” on YouTube.
Although most elements of traditional poetry aren’t used, Allen’s prose-like poem is effective enough to attract more than 118,000 viewers, who seem quite moved by his subject and presentation.
In New York, spoken word artists are thriving. The “Spoken Word Poetry Café” a group of Christian artists, meets monthly in Brooklyn. You’ve got to love their stage names: Love da Poet; Thee Apprentice; Selah the Poet; Slave; Illegal Poet and Glamour of MP.
I listened to Agent NG aka Scrip, perform “When I Spit” – which has nothing to do with saliva but refers to oral poetry performance and in his case, being close to God.
“The Inspired Word” meets weekly in Manhattan. It hosts world class performers, some of them Christian. One talented group that performs there “The Truth Urban Theater,” is highly critically acclaimed, while still relating to Christian themes with theater and poetry.
I came across these exceptional, young talents on the web and fell in love with their work and words they employ so beautifully. Spoken word poets and rappers engage our culture face to face, in real time with energy and passion. Because some are also technically proficient and brilliant at what they do, they earn not only the respect of the secular world but also the attention of many young people and poetry lovers who would not otherwise be hearing their message.