Form and Theory of Poetry

Spoken Word

This course fulfills Oral Communication (O) and Writing Intensive (W) Focus Designations.


I’m coming to meet you

I’m coming to see you

What stories will I find?

Will I find an island

or a tomb?

                    — Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner


Course Description

In this class, we will build our writing community around spoken word, a form of poetry that historically prioritizes embodied action, public performance, and community. This course is designed to enable you to meet your learning objectives through a combination of reading assignments, writing assignments, and oral presentations of various formats. Throughout the semester, we will examine spoken word in two interrelated ways: as a creative practice and as a subject of critical inquiry. As a creative practice, we will discuss poetic forms and produce original spoken word projects. As a subject of critical inquiry, we will study and analyze canonical and contemporary spoken word performances while drawing from scholarship in literary theory, performance studies, cultural studies, and Indigenous feminism.

Our study of spoken word will be framed by BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) cultural production, with specific focus on ʻŌiwi (Native Hawaiian) and Pacific poetics and performances. We will begin the semester by viewing and discussing two canonical spoken word productions: Ntozake Shange’s choreopoem for colored girls who have considered suicide / when the rainbow is enuf (1975) and Marlon T. Riggs’ film Tongues Untied (1989). We will then enter deeper explorations into the spoken word productions of poets in Oceania like Sia Figiel, Teresia Teaiwa, Joe Balaz, and Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner. Guest speakers will include Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio, Joy Enomoto, Jocelyn Ng, and Craig Santos Perez.


Course Format

This class will be conducted entirely online through Laulima and Zoom. The Zoom link to the recurring class meeting will be posted on Laulima. Please join our Zoom meetings promptly. The first month will require synchronous meetings on Wednesdays and Fridays. Subsequently, synchronous meetings are scheduled on Wednesdays while asynchronous work is done on Fridays. I will also host an optional synchronous class on the last Friday of each month.


Required Course Materials

Internet Access to Laulima & Zoom

Students are responsible for understanding how to navigate their email accounts as well as our Laulima website and Zoom meetings. Check your email and our Laulima website on a regular basis as any changes will be announced in class and via email and announcements on Laulima.


Textbooks costs are $0. All texts will be made available as PDFs, hyperlinks, or embedded material on our Laulima site. For those who wish to purchase physical copies of books, I encourage you to support local bookstores or buy directly from publishers.


Descriptions of Select Assignments

Close Reading

I will give you three short passages from texts we have read/viewed. You will choose one of these passages and write two substantial paragraphs that analyze the relationship between imagery and sound in a selected poetic text/performance as well as the significance of imagery and sound to the theme or tone of the larger work. I will also give you a list of key terms we have discussed in class. You must incorporate two of these terms into your essay, applying them accurately in your analysis of the passage.


Group Spoken Word Performance

Each group will be required to perform Haunani-Kay Trask’s “Chant of Lamentation” in front of our class. A successful group performance will be rehearsed and reflect appropriate choices made in terms of rhythm, polyvocality, repetition, and silence to achieve a specific listening and viewing experience. Each group member must have a performance role.



You will write a short review (100-250 words) of the group spoken word performance you believed to be the most engaging. Your review must include specific commentary on performance choices and the effects of those choices on you as an audience member and on your new understanding, approach, or experience of Trask’s poem.


PechaKucha Tuahine

At the beginning of the semester, I will share a list of spoken word artists, movements, and events. From this list, you will choose one item and conduct focused historical research in which you evaluate and integrate supporting materials from appropriate sources and credit them according to the most recent MLA guidelines. You will then deliver a short slideshow presentation in the PechaKucha format in which you share 20 slides of information, each for 20 seconds. Tuahine is the name of the rain in Mānoa, thus these oral presentations are named PechaKucha Tuahine. Be sure to upload your presentation file to Assignments in Laulima at the beginning of class on the day of your presentation. The intended audience of your presentation are students who are thinking about enrolling in a poetry course. The purpose of your presentation is two-fold: one, to inform and educate the audience on the historical context, contributions, and contemporary value of your spoken word subject; and two, to persuade the audience to enroll in a poetry course at UH-Mānoa. Your presentations must be less than seven minutes. Include strong, relevant visuals and a well-rehearsed commentary.


Compare & Contrast Essay

How do Native Hawaiian and other Pacific poets depict the legacy of colonialism in Oceania through poems about food? Compose an essay (500-750 words) that compares and contrasts Craig Santos Perez’s “Spam’s Carbon Footprint” and either Brandy Nālani McDougall’s “On Cooking Captain Cook” or Sage Takehiro’s “Fish Bones.” Your essay must include two substantial paragraphs on the historical and/or cultural contexts particular to both poems and a Works Cited list of at least two outside sources.



Portfolio (Word or PDF) must include (in the following order):

  • title page with your name and email as well as our course details centered on the page
  • statement of poetics on the difference between writing poetry for the page and writing poetry for public performance (250-500 words)
  • critical reflection on group podcast episode (250-500 words), which should comment on group dynamics, community feedback, and the transformation of your podcast poem from page to podcast
  • written versions of the final drafts of an amplified poem (scored), celebration poem, cultural narrative poem, eco-poem, food poem, list poem, and polyvocal poem


Revision Packet

Of the seven poems required for your portfolio, choose one to curate the following materials around: all drafts of chosen poem, including drafts with my written feedback; and a statement (100-250 words) on the revision process, which should explain why you made the choices that led to your final draft.


Written Proposal: Online Poetry Event

Write a proposal (500 words) for an online poetry event for a target audience. The event may take the form of a Zoom webinar, Instagram live, podcast, or another kind of online gathering. Proposals for standard poetry readings will not be accepted unless there are innovative and intentional efforts to create an interactive and community-building event. Your proposal must be specific and inspiring. Be creative and be clear about how you plan to bring poetry into a community and how the event will bring value to that community. Thoughtful considerations of audience are crucial.