Accepted Paper:

Verbal improvisation as poetics of the present   


Venla Sykäri (Finnish Literature Society)

Paper short abstract:

Verbal improvisation is a form of performance where much is at stake. This paper analyzes the Finnish young men's choice to learn to improvise and perform in the contemporary genre of freestyle-rap. In addition to their personal attraction to verbal expression, this choice is a social argument.

Paper long abstract:

Within the creative elements of hip hop, improvised rap or freestyle, the spontaneous oral composition and performance of rap verses, is often closely bound to subcultural in-group communication and evaluation of rank between performers. For the urban youth of color in U.S., performative exhibition of their "street-consciousness" is a necessary mode of claiming a place in the community. On what grounds, then, do Finnish young men, who live in a different society, choose to develop skills in such demanding genre, which may bring them glory but also renders them vulnerable in front of their peers and the audience?

This presentation is based on recent fieldwork with Finnish freestylers and discusses the performers' ambitions and sensitivities as verbal improvisers in a modern European society. The grounding values of the now global hip hop movement crystallize in the association of knowledge with movement, and the twofold demand for both personal development and the creation of communality. For the Finnish youth, these values also translate into a criticism of mass culture and pre-scripted models and roles that many performers find too tight in the contemporary Western society. Beyond enthusiasm towards rhythm and poetic language, the choice of freestyle is a strong statement of the ability of an individual to command one's own creativity and to readily participate in communicative, social interaction. As such, this contemporary global oral form returns to highlight the poetics of the present very similarly as the oral poetries did in the past oral communities.

Panel Gend003
Performing identities: age and gender related viewpoints to the poetics of past, present, and future