When I was an undergrad, I was already into poetry that worked on the page. And I was into poetry that sounded good, but was so often disappointed upon actually coming across a reading/recording of these wonderfully evocative voices. One of the most disheartening experiences in the world is to listen to Langston Hughes read his own work. There is no blues, no jazz, no nothing to his voice. Eliot's Waste Land is incredible in terms of sound (I think James Baldwin said that he discovered jazz on the page from reading Eliot), but no readings of it ever did it justice. I'd read postmodernists who had a gorgeous sense of sound on the page (let's skip sense of sense for the moment) but just monotoned on in public - and this from poets who were specifically trying to break language down into phonemes and rhythms!
Then came Firefly. There was a local homeless guy named, no BS, John Firefly. He'd come onto campus sometimes, and I heard him read at an open mic in the basement of the student center. The guy just came alive, and it was the first time I heard someone read in such a way that everyone in the room had to listen. Whether the actual words will survive into posterity, I have my doubts (no offense intended to John if he ever comes across this)(but I do still have copies of every poem you gave me). But this was an electric presentation. Of course, I inadvertantly got him banned from the local Barnes & Noble - invited him there as a special reader (along with John O'Leary, see below). They arm-wrestled to see who would go first - the genuinely homeless black man and the homeless-looking Irish bard. Firefly had to go first, and breaks out a poem about watching himself in the mirror as he has sex. Little old ladies get up. Complaints are made. No more Firefly at B&N in Bloomington, IL.
That was the jab. The hook came in the form of an Irish poet named John O'Leary, who was the visiting writer-in-residence. This guy is amazing, and a poet in the deep, old sense of the word. His father used to make him study poetry each day, and you could walk up to him on campus and say, for example, "Paradise Lost, Book V, go," and he'd start quoting Milton. As for Virgil, and he'd go off in Latin. He was an obsessive revisionist (much like myself), and you'd see him walking around campus or smoking somewhere, and you knew from the look in his eye he was revising a sonnet. If you get the chance, try to get hold of either of his books of sonnets (Salt and Sea, respectively, both from the now-defunct Zenane Independent Media). Had a wonderful speaking voice, full of whatever it needed to be full of at the moment. Had excellent poetry, such that his good voice never had to carry a bad poem. Introduced me to the power of memorizing work, my own and others', and in refusing to let out a poem before it was ready, even if that took five or ten years.
That's love for the spoken word. Still trying to figure out if I ever fell in love with slam, or if I just use it to get people who wouldn't otherwise be interested in poetry, well, interested...