Undergraduate Honors Theses

Thesis Defended

Spring 2012

Document Type




First Advisor

Dr. Cindy White

Second Advisor

Dr. Gerard Hauser


The rhetorical tradition‘s focus on the institutional public sphere often excludes poetry or relegates it to secondary status. On the opposite extreme, many poets and literary scholars claim that poetry has exceptional rhetorical abilities beyond what is possible through other rhetorical forms. This rhetorical project analyzes Word Warriors: 35 Women in the Spoken Word Revolution to investigate the rhetorical role of spoken word poetry in the contemporary feminist movement. The analysis begins with a thematic comparison to the feminist essay anthology Listen Up: Voices from the Next Generation of Feminists. This comparative analysis shows the similarities between the two anthologies and thus challenges a distinction between rhetoric and poetic. It also identifies the role of spoken word poetry within the feminist movement as particularly direct, active, and emotionally evocative. Word Warriors’ poems demonstrate that spoken word poetry can induce social action and has all of the qualities necessary to be considered rhetorical. Word Warriors and the poetry in it, has a way of knowing, being, and doing, just like other rhetorical forms. This paper concludes by rejecting two extreme but persistent positions about poetry’s uniqueness. I reject first the idea that poetry is unique for its lack of rhetorical ability. Second, I reject the idea that poetry is unique for rhetorical abilities that exceed other forms. At least in the form of feminist spoken word poetry, poetry is not powerless, mysterious, nor especially grand.