Oral poetry
Oral poetry can be defined in various ways. A strict definition would include only poetry
Poetry is a form of literary art in which language is used for its aesthetic and evocative qualities in addition to, or in lieu of, its apparent meaning...

 that is composed and transmitted without any aid of writing. However, the complex relationships between written and spoken literature in some societies can make this definition hard to maintain, and oral poetry is sometimes considered to include any poetry which is performed live. In many cultures, oral poetry overlaps with, or is identical with, song
In music, a song is a composition for voice or voices, performed by singing.A song may be accompanied by musical instruments, or it may be unaccompanied, as in the case of a cappella songs...

. Meanwhile, although the term oral etymologically means 'to do with the mouth
The mouth is the first portion of the alimentary canal that receives food andsaliva. The oral mucosa is the mucous membrane epithelium lining the inside of the mouth....

', in some cultures oral poetry is also performed by other means, such as talking drums
Drum (communication)
Developed from hollow tree trunks, and used by cultures living in deforested areas, drums served as an early form of long distance communication, and were used during ceremonial and religious functions.-Pressure drum:...

 in some African cultures. Oral poetry exists most clearly within oral cultures, but it can survive, and indeed flourish, in highly literate
Literacy has traditionally been described as the ability to read for knowledge, write coherently and think critically about printed material.Literacy represents the lifelong, intellectual process of gaining meaning from print...


Oral poetry differs from oral literature
Oral literature
Oral literature corresponds in the sphere of the spoken word to literature as literature operates in the domain of the written word. It thus forms a generally more fundamental component of culture, but operates in many ways as one might expect literature to do...

 in general because oral literature encompasses linguistic registers which are not considered poetry. In most oral literature, poetry is defined by the fact that it conforms to metrical rules
Meter (poetry)
In poetry, metre is the basic rhythmic structure of a verse or lines in verse. Many traditional verse forms prescribe a specific verse metre, or a certain set of metres alternating in a particular order. The study of metres and forms of versification is known as prosody...

; examples of non-poetic oral literature in Western culture include some jokes, speeches
Public speaking
Public speaking is the process of speaking to a group of people in a structured, deliberate manner intended to inform, influence, or entertain the listeners...

 and storytelling
Storytelling is the conveying of events in words, images and sounds, often by improvisation or embellishment. Stories or narratives have been shared in every culture as a means of entertainment, education, cultural preservation and in order to instill moral values...


An influential movement in the study of oral poetry, both because it helped to bring oral poetry within the realms of academic literary study and because it illuminated the ways in which poetic form and orality interrelate, has been the oral-formulaic theory
Oral-Formulaic Composition
The theory of oral-formulaic composition originated in the scholarly study of epic poetry, being developed in the second quarter of the twentieth century...

 developed by Milman Parry
Milman Parry
Milman Parry was a scholar of epic poetry and the founder of the discipline of oral tradition.-Biography:He was born in 1902 and studied at the University of California, Berkeley and at the Sorbonne . A student of the linguist Antoine Meillet at the Sorbonne, Parry revolutionized Homeric studies...

 and Albert Lord
Albert Lord
Albert Bates Lord was a professor of Slavic and comparative literature at Harvard University who, after the death of Milman Parry, carried on that scholar's research into epic literature.-Personal life:...

. This theory showed how stock phrases could enable poets to improvise verse. One consequence of Parry and Lord's work is that orally improvised poetry (as opposed to poetry which is composed without the use of writing but then memorised and performed later) is sometimes seen as the example par excellence of oral poetry. Examples of orally improvised poetry are the epics of the Serbo-Croation guslars studied by Parry and Lord, Basque bertsolaritza
Bertsolaritza or bertsolarism is the art of singing extemporary composed songs in Basque according to various melodies and rhyming patterns...

, and freestyle rap
Freestyle rap
Freestyle rap commonly refers to rap lyrics which are improvised through a acapella or with instrumental beats, i.e. performed with no previously composed lyrics, or "off the top of the head"...


Much oral poetry, however, is memorised verbatim - though the precise wording, particularly of words which are not essential to sense or metre, do tend to change from one performance to another, and one performer to another. Although the original composition of a memorised oral poem may have been undertaken without the use of writing, memorial traditions sometimes originate in a written text. Likewise, memorised oral poems can come to be written down, leading to a situation in which written versions in turn influence memorised versions. Prominent examples of memorised oral poetry are some nursery rhyme
Nursery rhyme
The term nursery rhyme is used for "traditional" poems for young children in Britain and many other countries, but usage only dates from the 19th century and in North America the older ‘Mother Goose Rhymes’ is still often used.-Lullabies:...

s, ballad
A ballad is a form of verse, often a narrative set to music. Ballads were particularly characteristic of British and Irish popular poetry and song from the later medieval period until the 19th century and used extensively across Europe and later the Americas, Australia and North Africa. Many...

s and medieval Scandinavian skaldic verse.

Regional and national traditions

Poetical improvisation is a living tradition in many parts of the world. Regional traditions may include but surely are not limited to:
  • La Payada in Argentina
    Argentina , officially the Argentine Republic , is the second largest country in South America by land area, after Brazil. It is constituted as a federation of 23 provinces and an autonomous city, Buenos Aires...

  • Basque Bertsolaritza
    Bertsolaritza or bertsolarism is the art of singing extemporary composed songs in Basque according to various melodies and rhyming patterns...

  • Maltese
    Malta , officially known as the Republic of Malta , is a Southern European country consisting of an archipelago situated in the centre of the Mediterranean, south of Sicily, east of Tunisia and north of Libya, with Gibraltar to the west and Alexandria to the east.Malta covers just over in...

  • The canto a braccio of Lazio, Italy
  • The improvvisazione in ottava rima of Tuscany
    Tuscany is a region in Italy. It has an area of about 23,000 square kilometres and a population of about 3.75 million inhabitants. The regional capital is Florence ....

    , Italy
  • The stornelli and other local traditions in other parts of Italy
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