Urban poetry is a literary art form in which poetry is used to express feelings or to share experiences that are related to living in urban communities. Common themes include poverty, social injustice, stress, struggles and survival. As with many other forms of poetry, it is common for the lines of an urban poem to rhyme, but it is not necessary all of the time. Urban poetry also can vary in length, meter and rhythm. These poems are not set to music, although music might be played in the background during a live performance or a reading of urban poetry.
Although many people consider the term "urban" to refer to modern cities full of brick and steel structures, large expanses of asphalt and concrete, flashing lights and hundreds of thousands of people, forms of urban poetry have sprung out of cities for centuries. Although cities have become more modernized, many of the conditions that inspire urban poets are much the same as they were hundreds of years ago. For example, urban poetry has been popular in India for several centuries.
One overriding theme of urban poetry is the condemnation of social injustice. Modern urban poets tend to focus on issues that negatively influence the lives of minorities. Rather than express an opinion about an issue, many urban poems tell the story of someone living in a city, which allows the reader or listener to gain a better understanding of urban issues by learning about the storyteller's personal experiences dealing with those issues. For example, a poem about a loved one being an innocent victim of a violent crime can send a message about one type of problem that people living in an urban community might face. Another urban poet might address the same issue by writing a poem calling for an end to violence or for better police protection.
Although urban poetry might be fictional, it typically addresses a subject or situation that the poet has personally experienced. The motivation to address unjust or difficult situations that the poet has experienced often leads to powerful emotions on the part of both the poet and the audience, particularly during a live performance. Some people believe that urban poetry is more appropriate as a spoken art form than as literature. Therefore, this type of poetry frequently can be found as audio recordings rather than in books or other printed material. Live performances are common, including "open mike nights" — or "open mic nights" — during which experienced and new urban poets alike are invited to share their art.