Slam Poetry

What is Slam poetry? Our useful Urban Dictionary defines it as “n. A style of spoken word poetry that is generally used in a competition, known as a poetry slam. Often, as with hip-hop music, the subject matter concerns urban life, crime, drugs, or other inner-city-related subjects. The difference in many cases, however, is that with slam poetry, the words/lyrics are more introspective and creative than your run-of-the-mill hit rap song.”

Slam Poetry originated in 1985 when construction worker and poet Marc Smith read his poem into an open mic, breathing his heart on the words as they rolled from his lips. As each syllable was given life, a new style of poetry emerged that expressed the crux of disappointment, trial, and the raw grittiness of life uncensored. Sometimes, the more positive memoirs of hopes and dreams, wisdom and strength have also been contenders.

Originally the soul of blue collared nights relaxing in the Chicago jazz clubs, the original style of slam poetry has now turned trend for hipsters and chic gals alike.

Slam poetry uses this quote as unofficial mantra: The performance of poetry is an art — just as much an art as the art of writing it. Often performers of their poems use hand gestures, pace around the stage, and will their voices into excited crescendos only to throw the sounds off a cliff and hang in silence for effect. And it works… Impeccably. The silky lulls of Shakespeare’s sonnets formerly expressed by lovers have been temporarily replaced by these decrees of passionate opinion and emotional reaction.

How does one write this style of poetry?

1) Select a topic of your choice; it can be anything!

2) Choose a rhythm, using city sounds, natural pulses, or your own unique beats.

3) Research new vocabulary words and synonyms to incorporate into your speech.

4) Read your poem aloud, using the chosen beat to communicate your individual message.

Perhaps the best explanation of slam poetry, if your cognitive sensors are still floundering, is this: Slam Poets have two minds… one with which they experience life as it comes unexamined, and with the other they capture the levels of meaning often hidden by those who experience life too quickly.

As Sarah Kay states in this first link, it can be beneficial to work through problems on paper. Even though poetry is emotional by nature, often the composition allows one to work through the problem as words are chosen for their perfection in expressing your experience.

Once the poem is written there is an undeniable catharsis in performing it. The poet puts emphasis where appropriate, or inappropriate, to make a point and in that takes the audience into her hands to play with as a potter does clay. It is positive manipulation. The cadence sucks the audience into the poet’s reality and the two parties meet for a moment of truth in this charged vision.

Check out these links to start your slam poetry repertoire:

Sarah Key:

Taylor Mali: