After getting its emergence in the 1980s, slam poetry continues to grow in popularity across the globe. From New York City to the middle of the map, most cities boost a spoken word poetry presence, and the art form continues to intersect with popular music, classroom instruction, and social justice movements. The slam scene brings more diverse voices and a larger audience to poetry, as well as provides an accessible, entertaining lens for people striving to get to know the literary community. Furthermore, because performers don’t have to wait for publication, slam poetry acts as a powerful and urgent way to address current events. Do you want to share your own slam poetry? Here are six ways to get started.
Listen & Learn
One of the best aspects of slam poetry lies in its widespread convenience. You don’t need to subscribe to a journal, go to an event, or personally know a slam poet to jump right in—rather, awe-inspiring art is at your fingertips. YouTube channels like Button Poetry, Get Lit, Youth Speaks, and Write About Now showcase hundreds of inspiring performances. Watch these videos, and pay attention to the details: How do poets manipulate their inflections, hand motions, facial expressions, and more to convey meaning?
Practice With a Favorite Poem
As a member of my high school’s speech and forensics team, I competed in the poetry category. This involved expressively reading a favorite poem for a panel of judges. Many college poetry courses employ a similar exercise, requiring students to memorize a poem and recite it in front of the class. It turns out, you can make this activity your own—as well as more personal and private. Pick a favorite poem, and embrace reading it as a full-body experience. How can you make each word be deeply felt? Once you’ve achieved this with someone else’s poem, it’s time to try it with one of your own.
Turn Your Rant or Rave Into Something More
Almost all poetry—but especially slam poetry—grows out of strong emotions. You know those moments and situations that make it nearly impossible to stop talking? There’s your entry point. Pick something you often complain about, or—oppositely—something you often gush over and try turning it into a hard-hitting piece. What does that love or hate look like, sound like, and feel like? Use those details to shift the conversational into the poetic.
Directly Address Someone or Something
There’s the humorous, like Nick Offerman’s satirical slam ode to bacon, and the serious, like this letter to the American flag. Both show us that slam poetry often carries a directness that other poems don’t, providing a strong entry point for beginning poets. Pick either someone or something to write a poem to: It can be a family member, an elected leader, a celebrity, a fictional character, an item in your closet, or even a symbol. Then, to practice your slam skills, make your poem an earnest, personal heart-to-heart.
Find Slam Spaces & Events Near You
Get to know the slam community in-person. Now that you’ve used the prompts above to generate a few poems of your own, find a place where they can shine. A simple Google or social media search for slam poetry in your area will typically point you in the right direction, but you can also use resources like this “Poetry Near You” database from the Academy of American Poets.
Connect & Keep Growing
One of the aspects of slam poetry that often excites people is the socialization. While many forms of writing might feel isolated, slam thrives on in-person support, like cheers, claps, and other encouragement. In fact, many slam poetry organizations form teams, which then rehearse together and travel together to competitions. Once you’ve attended a few in-person events, reach out to performers you admire and would like to learn from. A poetry workshop can push your work and serve as a testing ground for new material.
Happy slamming—here at Read Poetry, we’re sending snaps your way!