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Making community with the deep communication of popular live poetry in San Diego, California at the Millennium


By way of ethnography, this dissertation reveals the deep communication of popular live poetry and the public ritual of its event in a post-industrial urban center of the United States at the millennium. This genre of poetry is carried out through face-to-face communication between poets, audiences and hosts during free, publicly oriented events at venues such as coffeehouses. The form of poetry around which participants gather is rooted in the verbal art of oral, spoken poetry, draws inspiration from popular published poets, and performative practices from hip hop culture, slam poetry and storytelling. Popular live poetry reflects a working class ethos: in its form, its collective organization of poets in poetry crews, the bottom-up organization of its open-mics and slam events and the culture that comes to the fore through its activity. Yet, as a popular forum, it includes both working class and middle class participants. The communicative production of the form of live poetry draws poets and audiences together in ephemeral moments of complex, affective, intersubjective community. These moments are instructive: in combination with the public ritual of the event that safeguards against hierarchical inequalities across participants, they guide the diverse, cross-class participants in the imagination of new constellations of community and the rehearsal of an urban polis yet to be. My findings are based on research conducted from 2000 to 2004 and again from 2006 to 2007, in San Diego, CA, and to a lesser degree in Tijuana, MX and Austin, TX. I use methods of participant observation as an audience member and poet, ethnographic videography, and open-ended interviews with poets, audience members, event hosts and venue proprietors. I video-interviewed eight hosts of primary poetry events, forty poets, thirty audience members and video-recorded thirty-five acts of live poetry. I focus on the most popular event in the San Diego/Tijuana region during the first half of the decade of 2000 to ground my inquiry into the cultural and political meaning of popular live poetry at the millennium

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