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Slam Poetry: Writing and Performing



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Wed May 16, 2018 6:29 pm
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alliyah says...



Slam Poetry


I've been a fan of Slam Poetry for a few years now, and this last year I finally got up the courage to go to one and present my own poem. It's amazingly fun to get involved with, and I think anyone who's interested should try it at least once. This article will share some of the basics on Slam Poetry and some of the techniques that I think are helpful when writing it.

What is "Slam Poetry"?

Slam Poetry or Spoken Word is poetry intended to be shared orally in a Slam Poetry contest. Besides that, there is no official definition for "Slam Poetry" (no slam poetry police out there) so what exactly it is, is a matter of opinion and individual style.

There are some things that distinguish it from your typical poetry however - for instance it is performed orally, without props, and can be 3 minutes or less. The tradition of Slam Poetry grew out of people wanting to reject elitist rules about what poetry "had" to be, this is supposed to be the "people's poetry" that is accessible to write and understand for anyone in the audience.

So, Slam Poetry is whatever you want it to be. Poetry shouldn't be elitist, but can be written and understood by the common person with or without special training. That being said, there are common techniques that Slam Poems tend to use to make their poetry more dynamic. Let's take a look at those, but remember, don't consider these hard and fast rules — just ideas and suggestions!

Common Themes

If you need some help with common themes Slam Poetry addresses, here's a few, but write about whatever truth you would like to communicate. Speak about what speaks to you.

Politics, Race, Oppression, Depression, Anxiety, Culture Critiques, Violence, Family, Relationships, Capitalism, Education, Dreams/Goals, Feminism, Bodily Autonomy, Environment, Justice, Religion, Personal Story or Life Narrative.


Last edited by alliyah on Wed May 16, 2018 6:39 pm, edited 3 times in total.
but i don't think i can ever love someone
who doesn't understand that teal
is a different color than dark cyan.


  





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852 Reviews



Gender: Female
Points: 21955
Reviews: 852
Wed May 16, 2018 6:29 pm
alliyah says...



Slam Poetry Competition Rules


* Poems must be performed in 3 minutes or less from the time of the poet's first word or gesture.

* Poems must be the original work of the poet performing it.

* Poets can use their bodies and voice and their script, but no other props or costumes are allowed.

* Depending on the compeition, often 3-5 non-performing members of the audience are selected and then give their scores for each performance after the poet has read. Poets with the highest scores advance to the next round if there are multiple rounds in a competition.

* All poets must be prepared with poems for however many rounds the competition will go (ie. if the Slam is scheduled for 3 rounds, you need to bring along 3 potential poems to read)

Poetry Slam Inc. has a lot of the other basic information regarding finding Slams and other specifics on history, rules, and participation: General Information

Last edited by alliyah on Wed May 16, 2018 6:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.
but i don't think i can ever love someone
who doesn't understand that teal
is a different color than dark cyan.


  





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Wed May 16, 2018 6:32 pm
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alliyah says...



Common Slam Poetry Techniques


Slam poetry is a mixture of presentation and literary techniques, it's the "people's poetry" so it doesn't have to have conventional poetic elements like complicated metaphors or rhyme or structure (as this can even be seen as elitist in some circles). Still, it often does use many elements of your usual poem.

Bring Performance Techniques:

Try incoporating some of the following performance techniques to make your performance more exciting: beat boxing, stomping, singing, whistling, crying, whispering, yelling, hand gestures, facial reactions, getting audience to snap or clap with you.

Varying volume, tone, pace or speed, and accent are other nice performance techniques to try out. It is common to read Slam Poetry in a similar pace and manner to modern rapping, but it can also be read slowly or in a varied pace.

Add Rhyme:

Rhyme can be really loose near rhyme, rhyming several syllables, or rhyming a whole line. It doesn't have to be done in a pattern, but does add interest and emphasis to your points.

Hannah's article on poetic devices has a great section on rhyme:
Secret Treasures in Poetic Devices

Also, I love what this article says about rhyme and other Slam Poetry techniques:
(language warning) Poetic Devices to Spice up your Slam Poetry

Create a Refrain or a Chorus:

By repeating one element twice or throughout the poem (whether that's a line or a certain word) you can emphasize that point. If you change the refrain slightly as the poem goes on you can also show narrative or emotional progression.

Use Metaphor or Simile:

Just like your usual poem writing, metaphor and simile are some of the most direct ways to add interest to your piece and make it unique. Watch out for using cliches like "tears like raindrops" etc.

Here's a YWS article on how to avoid cliches: Cliches in Poetry

Last edited by alliyah on Wed May 16, 2018 6:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.
but i don't think i can ever love someone
who doesn't understand that teal
is a different color than dark cyan.


  





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Wed May 16, 2018 6:33 pm
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alliyah says...



Advanced Slam Poetry Techniques


Here are 3 elements that I've observed, that take an "okay" Slam Poem, and make it a "great" one. The main key here is hyping up the drama of it, and making it more interesting to the audience (remember if the audience is snapping, gasping, or connecting with the piece, the judges notice).

Multiple-Tone Emotion

While many Slam Poems choose anger as their primary emotional element, when a poem is really good it speaks to multiple emotional levels. ie. an angry poem doesn't stay angry the entire time, or a sad poem has a moment of humor. By switching up the emotional levels you give the poem way more depth - giving it highs and lows rather than relying on one plane of emotion.

This could be said as far as the emotional performance visually as well, if you're grinning or scowling the entire time the audience will stop paying attention to your facial cues, if you switch up your emotion at some point in the poem the audience will attach back on and are more likely to believe your emotion is genuine.

Double Meaning

Double Meaning, or sometimes double entendre, is basically when a word or phrase can be interpreted in more than one way. The double interpretation might be humorous, shocking, risque, word-play, or something else. It is often found in a line or phrase but can also be found within a larger chunk of the piece.

Small Scale:
On the small scale, you could use a phrase that can effectively be interpreted two ways because the word itself has two meanings or connotations (like read/red, sea/see or with a word like spring which has different verb/adjective/noun meanings.

You could use a word that sounds similar to a word of a different meaning creating your own phrasing like ("I'm allergic to the double sneeze burger" as a play on the phrase "double cheese burger").

Or you could have a phrase that changes it's meaning with a word or phrase addition following the phrase (for example "Out of student loans or tree house homes, we all would take the latter" from "Stressed Out" by Twenty One Pilots.)

Large Scale:
You can have double meaning on a large scale if you use an extended metaphor that's revealed at the end or has some *reveal* moment that changes the reader's expectations. This can be done by changing or revealing the perspective of the piece (changing to first person at the end, or revealing that the narrator isn't a fish, but is you) or by blurring the lines of what is metaphorical, or revealing the true metaphorical meaning later in the piece.

Make it Personal

Slam Poetry is fun partly because it's accessible to everyone. But just because anyone can do a Slam Poem, doesn't mean that all Slam Poems will make a similar impact on the audience. To have a greater emotional connection and give your poem "truth" value as well as authority, you should write from your own experience and make it personal. That doesn't mean you necessarally need to share your deepest darkest secrets or have a poem be 100% autobiographical to have a good Slam Poem, but owning what you are saying and having a strong "I" voice often makes a poem feel more personal in my experience which allows the poet to make a more direct emotional connection with the audience.

In other words, as it's often said, write what you know, and don't be afraid to be real and to be honest. For instance, if you're writing about what it's like to be a woman with anxiety, but you don't have anxiety and you're actually a male, people might not take your poem seriously. I often find that poetry that uses a personal ancedote or story in it somewhere feels like it connects to me more than poetry that is all about general emotions and observations. Even if I haven't experienced that specific ancedote (like a trip to the zoo) that they're referencing, it is easier to engage with the specific and concrete than with vague or general details.

Working on Specificity, Emotion, and Voice are all aspects that can make your poem feel more personal as well. The articles below are wonderful resources on those subjects:
Specificity in Poetry by alliyah
Editing for Emotion by Aley
Discovering your Voice by Kaylaa

Last edited by alliyah on Thu May 17, 2018 3:52 am, edited 1 time in total.
but i don't think i can ever love someone
who doesn't understand that teal
is a different color than dark cyan.


  





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Wed May 16, 2018 6:34 pm
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alliyah says...



Slam Poetry in Action


Here's a few Slam Poems you can listen to for reference or inspiration: (note some of these were done in open mic, or spoken word settings rather than in a Poetry Slam, but they still use many of the techniques of Slam Poetry). I tried to find ones that were appropriate and had some variety between them, but there are many lovely ones around youtube.

This one's emotional:
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This one's fast:
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This one's funny:
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Here's a group-poetry one... about cats:
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As far as listening to poets perform, the saying "to write good poetry, you need to read good poetry" applies to Slam Poetry as well - but don't be afraid to break outside of the box and just do your own thing. Even if it isn't received quite how you'd like, being true to your voice will be more satisfying than copying someone else's style.

If you'd like more examples or would like to share your own favorites, there's a thread for that in Poetry Discussions; right here.

Last edited by alliyah on Sat Oct 06, 2018 4:23 pm, edited 1 time in total.
but i don't think i can ever love someone
who doesn't understand that teal
is a different color than dark cyan.


  





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Gender: Female
Points: 21955
Reviews: 852
Wed May 16, 2018 6:34 pm
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alliyah says...



Conclusion: Go out and Poet!


As a last note, Slam Poetry can be absolutely terrifying to perform if it's your first time, practice will make that easier! If you can bring a few friends to support you I also highly recommend doing that. And lastly, if you find you just don't have the courage to perform Slam Poetry yet, I would recommend just attending one and watching one to begin with. The more you see others perform the easier it'll be for you to also get on stage.

Now it's time to get writing, and go out and find a Slam! Remember everything I've listed as far as techniques are just aspects that have spoken to me or that I've observed. You could use all, some, or none of them and still have an awesome Slam Poem. To that end, if you have experience listening or writing your own Slam Poems feel free to share what techniques have worked well for you or really resonated with you in the comments below.

Good Luck!

but i don't think i can ever love someone
who doesn't understand that teal
is a different color than dark cyan.


  








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