Sound poetry is an artistic form bridging literary and musical composition, in which the phonetic aspects of human speech are foregrounded instead of more conventional semantic and syntactic values; « verse without words ». By definition, sound poetry is intended primarily for performance.
While it is sometimes argued that the roots of sound poetry are to be found in oral poetry traditions, the writing of pure sound texts that downplay the roles of meaning and structure is a 20th-century phenomenon. The Futurist and Dadaist Vanguards of the beginning of this century were the pioneers in creating the first sound poetry forms. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti discovered that onomatopoeias were useful to describe a battle in Tripoli where he was a soldier, creating a sound text that became a sort of a spoken photograph of the battle. Dadaists were more involved in sound poetry and they invented different categories:
- Bruitist poem it is the phonetic poem, not so different from the futurist poem. Invented by Richard Huelsenbeck.
- Simultaneous poem a poem read in different languages, with different rhythms, tonalities, and by different persons at the same time. Invented by Tristan Tzara.
- Movement poem is the poem accompanied by primitive movements.
Sound poetry evolved into visual poetry and concrete poetry, two forms based in visual arts issues although the sound images are always very compelling in them. Later on, with the development of the magnetic tape recorder, sound poetry evolved thanks to the upcoming of the concrete music movement at the end of the 1940s. Some sound poetics were used by later poetry movements like the beat generation in the fifties or the spoken word movement in the 80’s, and by other art and music movements that brought up new forms such as text sound art that may be used for sound poems which more closely resemble « fiction or even essays, as traditionally defined, than poetry ».
It has been argued that “there is a paucity of information on women’s involvement in sound poetry, whether as practitioners, theorists, or even simply as listeners.” Among the earliest female practitioners are Berlin poet Else Lasker-Schüler, who experimented in what she called “Ursprache” (Ur-language), and the New York Dada poet and performer Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven. The Baroness’s poem “Klink-Hratzvenga (Death-wail)” was published in The Little Review in March 1920 to great controversy. Written in response to her husband Leopold von Freytag-Loringhoven’s suicide, the sound poem was “a mourning song in nonsense sounds that transcended national boundaries”. The Baroness was also known for her sexually charged sound poetry, as seen in “Teke Heart (Beating of Heart),” only recently published.
In their essay “Harpsichords Metallic Howl— », Irene Gammel and Suzanne Zelazo review the theories of sound by Charles Bernstein, Gerald Bruns, Min-Quian Ma, Rachel Blau DuPlessis, Jeffrey McCaffery and others to argue that sonic poetry foregrounds its own corporality. Thus “the Baroness’s sound poems let her body speak through her expansive use of sound, the Baroness conveys the fluidity of gender as a constantly changing, polysemous signifier.” In this way, somatic art becomes the poet’s own “space-sound.”
Of course, for many dadaists, such as Hugo Ball, sound poetry also presented a language of trauma, a cacophony used to protest the sound of the cannons of World War I. It was as T. J. Demos writes, « a telling stutter, a nervous echolalia. »