It's likely true that the average print-based poets, rappers, and spoken word poets are all struggling artists. Little pay for their talents and hard work. Always on the grind.
But when we look to the leaders of the respective fields and the overall structures and institutional support available to these genres of "poets," it stands out how underfunded spoken word poetry is in relation to rap and literary poetry.
Many talented literary poets who came of age during the mid to late 1990s, for example, went on to secure academic appointments at some major universities, allowing them to earn a living and have a stable place to write. From the mid 1990s onward, there has been an increase in literary awards and a growing number of black poets have been the recipients of prizes and fellowships. Certainly not all or a majority yet still several print-based African American poets have received substantial institutional support, which has translated into financial and cultural capital over an extended period of time.
Relatively few spoken word artists have fared as well. There's certainly not been the sustained institutional support directed at large groups of spoken word folks comparable to print-based poets. Universities have regularly brought in spoken word artists over the years, but notably, student groups tend to organize those activities, which are often one-time events.
Aside from the National Poetry Slam competitions and the competition for high school students, there are no major awards, prizes, and fellowships for spoken word poets. A select few become popular and get regular gigs, but we rarely see any sustained support and opportunities for spoken word folks, especially not to the degree that we see for literary and university realms.
Now, to be clear, the best of spoken word poetry likely has its distinct sounds in part because it is decidedly not connected to literary and university institutionalization. And by the way, I'm hardly the best spokesperson and advocate for spoken word poetry. But in the spirit of thinking and writing more about the nature and histories of the work, it's important to consider, among other things, how underfunded this aspect of poetry has been.
• May 22: A Southern and Malcolm-like Sound: C. Liegh McInnis & Spoken Word
• May 21: Geography & Distinct Sounds in Spoken Word Poetry
• February 11: Black Women, Militancy, and Spoken Word Poetry
• February 5: Black Collegiate Women & the Power of Spoken Word Poetry
• July 30: Jill Scott & Erykah Badu: From Spoken Word to R&B
• July 25: Spoken Word Poetry & Black Intellectual Histories
• May 17: From Rapper to Poet to Hip Hop Head: The Sagas of Treasure Redmond