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How to Write Slam Poetry

Slam poetry gives equal weight to writing and performance.
John Rowley/Photodisc/Getty Images

Slam poetry is spoken-word poetry with attitude. A poetry slam is a contest for performers of this spoken word art in which poets are judged for their ability to convey a mood or feeling with their words, imagery and vocal style. Slam poetry began in Chicago in the 1980s, and now it's so widespread that even some high schools have slam poetry teams that compete with other schools.

Find Inspiration

In many ways, writing slam poetry is no different than writing any kind of creative piece. It begins with an idea, feeling or story that the writer feels compelled to express. Writers can look to their personal experiences for ideas or take inspiration from the news, from songs, or from other poems or writings. The poet should express her feelings in her own voice, however, even when using another's work as a starting point.

Write the Poem

A poem written to be spoken has many of the same elements as a poem that's read silently, but the creator must remember that the performance of this poem is as important as the content. Thus the poet needs to use dynamic words, imagery and performance styles to captivate an audience. Repetition is a popular and effective method for grabbing attention. Rhyming words are pleasing to the ear and can add cohesion to a piece. The writer should choose language that conveys an opinion or expresses an attitude.

Perform It

After the poem is drafted, the writer should practice performing it out loud. He could record the piece or perform it in front of a friend or small audience at first. The poet should ask if the poem is working as intended. If not, slam poet Gayle Danley advises cutting the fat. Remove any phrases, references or digressions that weigh the poem down. If the verse doesn't come alive on the first reading, the writer should consider adding vocal or other elements to spice it up.

Memorize, Practice, Perform

Once the poem is in its final form, the artist should memorize it. Further changes can be made and the poet can reserve room to improvise, but the overall structure of the poem should be finished and committed to memory. The poet should practice the piece over and over, deciding where to add gestures and change vocal inflections. Then it's time to perform the piece in front of a crowd. Feedback from the audience may determine how the poem evolves in the future.

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