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Performance Poetry Examples

Performance poetry examples are the diverse ways poems come alive through the presentation to and audience.

It is believed that performance poetry started in the 1980s with the poet Hedwig Gorski, but I have a different opinion about this discussion.

Welcome friends, today, we will be discussing performance poetry examples from the African perspective. However, we cannot go on without having fair knowledge of what performance poetry is. So ride with me as we learn about this magical act.

Meaning of performance poetry

Performance poetry can either be a written poem from home or just an improvisation on stage. Either way, the most important aspect in performance poetry is the tone, attitude, expression given to the words, and it must be performed before an audience.

In other words, It is poetry that is written particularly before or during the performance for an audience. It is an aspect of art, that deals majorly with how words are express individually.

You know, we all have our distinct tones and attitude. Our accent can not all be the same. So, how best an individual uses his accent and intonation, will stand out from others. Nevertheless, the ability for a performance poetry poet to bring in his accent and that of others into his rendition gives him/her an edge. Also his attitude, and proficiency in every word/ line makes the audience connect with him.

Performance poetry in Africa

It is known that the Europeans practice more of the written tradition, why the African people practice performance tradition. Early writings might have started in Africa too, but they can not be compared to that of performance traditions. A majority of African cultures and traditions deals with performance and that is why we have so many performances.

If we then say Africans are more of a performance people, would it not be logical to say that performance poetry originates from Africa?  Africans might not have written this type of art but they have performed it over and over again.

The name is not known as performance poetry but an oral tradition called chants. Chants are like poems written for the high and noble in the society, and the village people.

It is not uncommon that what constitutes chants in Africa, is the same as performance poetry. It might not have been written for documentation purpose, but it was performed. Which I believe is the essence of performance poetry.

Poetry examples in Africa

Like I said earlier, Africans do not have much of their performance documented. It is an impulse performance so no records were carried out including videos.

Furthermore, African performance poetry examples are based on improvisations. There is no written poem whatsoever. Since documentation was not our practice, we acted based on the gatherings. It can be in a coronation ceremony, marriage, funeral, naming ceremony, etc.  It is a rear talent indeed.

Imagine creating poetry from impulse? It is not an easy act of expression but one that has ongoing training. It takes year’s of training and practice to be able to chant well and be recognised in your community.

Another point worthy of note is that all the elements involved in performance poetry, are the basis of chants. The tone, attitudes, style and expression is what also stands a chanter out. Its ability to get the audience involved in his performance, so they can relate with every word, makes it spectacular.

However, these points will be difficult to prove because there are no recorded videos. Notwithstanding, some statistics prove that Africans are performance-oriented.

Relationship between Poetry and Oral tradition.


Performance poetry in oral form
Oral tradition in a Performance way

From generation to generations, Africans, communicate their culture through oral traditions. There is no book or video anywhere which tells of the history of the people. But there is a living encyclopedia living somewhere in the village that knows the history.

Before he or she passes on, it is told as a tale to the younger generations. In this process, the man/woman is performing for the people. Would you not call that performance poetry examples? Or is there a written law that stays the type of words to be rendered?

I call it a performance poetry example because it carries all the elements of performance poetry. Also, the fact that it is not written in the English Language does not validate it not be a performance poetry example. At least there is a poet, a stage, and an audience.

The advent Of Written Tradition

As days turn into year’s and Africans are becoming more aware of the need to document our history, cultures and traditions, a new era emerges.  We started writing our history.

Why did we do this?

To rewrite our stories, some Africans took up the mantle to write poetry and history befitting of this glorious continent. We have writers like Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe, Ola Rotimi, Jomo Kenyatta and Amma Darko. These least is not limited to all African writers but a few.

We also have poets who turned our oral chants into words. Chants is a strong tradition in Africa and that is why it is among the five pillars of African traditions and culture.

With that being said, oral performance poetry examples have moved from being a performance to a written document. Sooner or later, we will move to videos, so more of our art will be documented and kept for record purpose.

This is an example of a written poem  from the brief Akan dirge

Amaago, won’t you look?
Won’t you look at my face?
When you are absent, we ask of you.
You have been away long: your children are waiting for you
(Nketia 1955: 184)

This and many more are the faces where we stand in performance poetry examples in Africa. Written text.


Performance poetry has been in Africa for ages. It is a way of life and an art form called chant. However, this art form is not seen as a chant in recent times but as performance poetry.

There are no many performance poetry examples in Africa because it is an oral tradition and much documentation has not been given.

The aim of this article nevertheless, is to create awareness for the African art called chant that has been in existence for a decade. The world might not recognise this art form as the basis of performance poetry, or even acknowledge it in the space of art, but it is the reality of things and should be seen as such. ( My opinions)

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