Spoken word has developed a strong voice and a dedicated audience, with its popularity increasing rapidly over recent years. Often being used as a vehicle to deliver a message to a community, culture or following, its key element is entertainment value; the lasting impression it has on the audience.
Although sometimes confused with its older sibling 'slam poetry', generally (although not exclusively) it tends to offer up its message less aggressively and with a more theoretical and oratory influence.
Indeed, spoken word doesn't necessarily have to involve poetry at all. It can be used to tell a story, perform a joke or sketch or deliver a hard-hitting message. There are no concrete rules to follow and it often overlaps into other associated art forms such as Hip Hop, Poetic Recital and Comedy Acts for example.
Acclaimed for his combination of reflection of contemporary issues into spoken word, Linton Kwesi Johnson brings this form of poetic oratory together with music and is considered a 'dub poet'. Taking the spoken word storytelling from another angle more akin to comedy/stand up is Henry Rollins who is renowned for hard hitting tales of modern life. Tim Key is probably Britain's best known performance poet. He has appeared on shows such as 'Charlie Brooker's Newswipe' and on several BBC radio shows. Many of his performances are on YouTube and he has also released an album of his work.
The work of a spoken word artist extends way beyond the boundaries of a printed page, with the delivery of the work being just as important as the structure of the written word. It's a performance piece intended for an audience and the emphasis is on the reader to 'make an impact'.
In its poetic form it can be easily perceived as song lyrics and is sometimes complemented with music or sounds. A good example of this crossover can be seen in Ed Sheeran's chart hit 'The A Team', which could be classed by many as a spoken word piece.
To see examples of spoken word poetry in action, YouTube is a good source, with thousands of video results for the searches 'spoken word poetry' and 'performance poetry'. There are also many poetry performances and workshops held around the country, for example Word Poetry spoken word events held in the Midlands. On their website there are audio recordings of some of the poems performed.