A vibrant cultural history ... It is in the telling that the true magic of spoken word, and Bennett’s intricate exploration of its origin stories, comes alive ... Drawing on in-depth research and a far-reaching reservoir of interviews with key players — as well as his own personal narrative — Bennett focuses most on the spaces and characters that brought it all together ... Bennett renders this lush history in lively, captivating prose, smoothly transporting us back to the city blocks, bars, cafes and stages these artists traversed and inhabited. Perhaps most endearingly, and what makes this book shine with a refreshing dynamism, is that this history is also his own ... Bennett weaves his own narrative throughout ... It’s been a rich life, and Bennett’s decision to interweave its details with the rich history of spoken word only rarely results in unwieldy pacing or chronology. This book is not only a thoroughly researched and engrossing history by an accomplished and qualified academic, but also, and perhaps more significantly, a tender and heartwarming narrative of the evolution of an art form from a passionate, charismatic participant who was on the ground, in the audience and on the stage himself.
Other than a few cursory nods to Allen Ginsberg, Bennett doesn’t contend with the legacy of the Beat poets. There’s no reference to the so-called dub poets ... These feel like missed opportunities, yet Bennett’s book still has plenty to recommend.
Bennett’s book is much more than a history: it’s a living poetic meditation on his own life as a poet and the lives of pathbreaking if largely ignored poets who did spoken word even before that moniker had been invented ... Bennett’s book provides readers with a nuanced interpretative history of the spoken word movement that, as he observes, created an 'unimpeachable beauty' between performers.