What Is Def Poetry?

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  • Written By: G. Wiesen
  • Edited By: Heather Bailey
  • Last Modified Date: 05 October 2019
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Def poetry is a form of poetry typically based on urban culture and themes, often with an expressed focus on the African American experience. While not defined purely by racial themes or poets, and anyone of any race or cultural background may compose such works, there is certainly a precedent for African American poets in this art form. This type of poetry typically serves to illustrate the experiences and lifestyle of those who grow up in urban environments. Def poetry can take a number of different forms, depending on the poet, though it typically expresses personal opinions and life stories.

While this type of poetry is often associated with a series of performances called Def Poetry Jam, which developed out of Russell Simmons’ Def Comedy Jam series, it can also exist outside of this particular platform. Much of the content of this type of poetry is similar to views and ideas expressed in hip hop or rap music, and the delivery of this poetry when read aloud can be similar to the cadence and meter found in many hip hop performances. This type of poetry is often read aloud at spoken word performances, rather than published in journals or magazines. Def poetry is often used as a way to express the experiences or opinions of the poet.


Def poetry can be somewhat similar or related to slam poetry, though they are not identical. Slam poetry is often found at “poetry slams” and consists not only of spoken verse, but utilizes spoken poetry as a form of competition or verbal combat between two or more poets. Def poetry, however, is not always competitive, though the delivery of such poetry may be similar to how poets recite their work at a poetry slam.

The themes of def poetry can vary a great deal, depending on the purpose of a poem when it is created. In general, however, such works are typically created to grant others an insight into the life or experiences of the poet. Such poems often have urban themes, and usually reflect the upbringing of the poet as well as his or her point of view on themes such as politics, race relations, gender relations, and popular entertainment. Def poetry usually has a specific purpose or tells a definite story, rather than some other forms of poetry that may be used merely to express an abstract concept.


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