As the basis of her doctoral dissertation for Wesley Theological Seminary, the Rev. Wanda Bynum Duckett explored how spoken word poetry can be used as a component of worship. Her work on her doctorate’s degree in urban ministry complete, at 1 p.m. March 22, Rev. Duckett presented her finding to the congregation of Mt. Zion United Methodist Church.
She detailed her journey in finding her voice as a poet, and then related it to the theological framework of sacred slam. Rev. Duckett explained that spoken word is intended for onstage performance, but believes it can be taken further. “What I am proposing with sacred slam is moving from the performance arena to the worship arena, so it’s no longer just entertainment, but also adoration, worship, and literature,” Rev. Duckett said. “It is strongly tied to storytelling, modern poetry, postmodern poetry, monologue theatre, and jazz. It’s kind of this eclectic morph thing that ends up in spoken word poetry.”
“Spoken word deals with issues. Sometimes issues we don’t want to deal with in the context of worship. Spoken word handles those things poetically,” said Rev. Duckett. It’s a powerful and high-energy form of expression. It’s a way of getting stuff out.” She mentioned that many spoken word poetry demonstrations took place in response to the Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman verdict.
Spoken word tends to come from a place of experiences, often derived from an urban setting. Spoken word is traditionally viewed as appealing to a younger crowd, but according to Rev. Duckett, it has the ability to reach anyone, regardless of age. Spoken word, she shared, consists of elements of Black preaching, including spiritual pharmacology, poetic recitation, imaginative insight, and social transformation.
Rev. Duckett examined the Bible and reasoned that spoken word was the beginning of creation. In Genesis, God spoke things into existence, which showed the power of speech. She said that in the new testament Jesus was contextual, meaning he could speak in the language of the culture he inhabited. Rev. Duckett the posed some striking questions.
“Has the word of God stopped being contextual in the flesh for us? Have we stopped studying the work of Jesus of studying the culture?”
Rev. Duckett suggested that we continue to keep a sound theology, but be flexible enough to speak to people in a way they can relate. Rev. Duckett believes if Jesus were alive today that he would find a way to speak to young people or people in an urban setting.
She explained that spoken word is more than consumption, but is redemption. Typically, people pay to consume spoken word and enjoy the art form, however, forgetting how it can change lives. “The redemptive properties are powerful people can be reached, the message can go forward, there is beauty in poetry, and purging that can happen,” Duckett said. “So, it’s not just the latest craze. There is a vitality associated with spoken word.”
Once her presentation concluded, three students from the Slam Team Connection School in Baltimore recited spoken word selections. There final piece dealt with Trayvon Martin, which was high energy and very emotional. The crowd rose give the performers a standing ovation.