Tuesday, October 9, 2007

I Hear Your Mother Likes It Like This...

According to a study currently being conducted by the Massachusetts Cultural Council, an interesting side discovery is proving that one of the strongest audiences for spoken-word poetry is the 65+ demographic. Regular and special poetry events at various venues that successfully draw consistent audiences tend to have an average 26% representation of elderly poetry enthusiasts, despite the revitalization of the medium as a young, hip activity. Senior citizen centers and programs throughout the country remain among the most consistent performance and workshop venues for spoken-word as well.

Spoken-word events and venues re-emerged in popularity during the mid 1990’s, mirroring the spoken-word movements of the 1950’s and 1960’s. In 2001, record and comedy show mogul, Russell Simmons, introduced Def Poetry Jam as an HBO series and eventually a touring, Broadway show. According to sources at Def Jam, the audience for their television shows and live shows have a similar demographic as that being uncovered by the MCC.

These findings are consistent with my own experiences as a spoken-word artist/ venue host. Having recently experienced a number of performances and book signings, book-buying, name-dropping elders recall their days of seeing Allen Ginsberg, Gil Scott Heron, Amiri Baraka, Oscar Brown, Jr., or Bob Kaufman. Definitely good literary and oral traditional company to be in. One in particular, when the Talking Drum Poets had an Art-I-Gras gig one New Years Eve and played to a packed house of elderly folks. It turned out that most of them were fans of our cable show and wanted to see it live.

When you consider that the jazz poets and Beatniks would now be in their 70’s and 80’s; and the socio-political coffeehouse culture of the 1960’s and early 70’s are now be in their 50's and 60's, it makes sense. For example in June of 2006, The Whaling City Poetry Review hosted a special celebration of what would have been the 80th birthday of legendary Beat poet, and cultural icon Allen Ginsberg, also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the publication of his epic poem, “Howl.” This event drew a generational cross section of poets ranging in age from five to over 90. Contemporary poets and spoken-word artists have also noted that most of their venue-based book and CD sales are made to the 55 plus crowd. As a spoken-word, it makes me wonder what the rooms are going to look like thirty years from now.

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