How To Write Slam Poetry

Slam poetry is one of the most exciting forms of poetry.  It is a spoken word poem that is performed at a “poetry slam” — a type of poetry competition that was popularised in the United States in the 1980s.  Participants in a poetry slam will perform their work in front of 5 judges, usually selected from the audience.  It is a fun poetry competition that can be very useful for improving your poetry writing skills.

If you are interested in writing some slam poetry for the first time or you want to improve your slam poetry, you have reached the right place.  This article will share several essential tips for writing slam poetry.  These tips will help you write slam poetry that the judges and audience will enjoy.


1. Immerse yourself in slam poetry

To become a slam poet champion, you will need to develop a real appreciation and understanding of the art form.  The easiest way to do so is by watching to a lot of slam poetry.  This will help you learn the flow of slam poems, how they are constructed, and the common themes that are used.  Look for local slam poetry events that you can attend or watch videos of slam poetry online.

2. Make it authentic

Once you have immersed yourself in some slam poetry, think about how you can use this art form to share your authentic self with others.  The audience will always prefer a slam poet who is genuine and has their own authentic voice.  They want to see the real you on stage — not an amalgam of other slam poets.

Think about how you can inject your own unique personality into your slam poetry.  Are you a sarcastic person?  Use your sarcasm.  Do you like corny jokes?  Go in that direction.  Are you a naturally shy or quiet person?  What do you really want to say to others?  By remaining authentic, you will find it easier to write the poem and the audience will be more responsive towards it.

3. Always remember that the poem will be performed

As you write your poem, remember that it will be performed in front of people.  Read your poem out loud as you write it, listening to the flow of the words and its rhythm.  The best slam poets will use pace, rhyme, and rhythm to create a poem that is highly engaging for the audience.

4. Use poetic devices that work well in slam poetry

In addition to rhyme and rhythm, the best slam poems often include alteration, simple metaphors, assonance, hyperbole, personification, meter, and vivid imagery.  These techniques help to create a poem that carries more impact with the audience.

5. Keep the language in the poem simple

Slam poetry should be simple to understand so the majority of the audience can follow along.  That means avoiding complex Shakespearean or Miltonesque flourishes of language.  Instead, use concrete language that has an immediate impact on the audience.  The best slam poems often use visceral or clever metaphors to entertain the audience.

A man sat under a tree writing poetry

6. Choose a theme that people can relate to

It also helps to choose a theme that the audience can relate to.  Some popular themes for slam poetry include dating, social issues, unusual dreams, self-exploration, daily experiences, parts of the culture that you love or hate, gender stereotypes, family issues, and politics.  Whatever theme you choose, share your personal experience of it.  This will help you avoid clichés and keep the audience interested.

7. Create an outline before starting on the poem

Once you have a general theme for your poem, write an outline.

  1. The first part of the outline should be the feelings or messages that you wish to convey to the audience.  Do you want the poem to make the audience laugh?  Should it make them reflect on their relationships or the world around them?  Identifying the end goal of the poem early on will help you create a slam poem that is effective.
  2. Next, think about experiences, emotions and ideas that can be used to achieve these objectives.  If you want to make the audience think about gender stereotypes, write about a personal experience that illustrates how gender stereotypes have affected you.  Embellish this with your thoughts and feelings on the topic.  Think about the order that you use when introducing experiences, emotions and ideas — you will need to take the audience on a journey with you through the poem.
  3. Finally, decide upon the style or tone of the poem.  Some slam poets will integrate rap into poems or heavily emphasise one specific poetic device to achieve a unique tone.

8. Get it on paper

After you have your outline in hand, get some poetry onto paper.  This is your first draft so it doesn’t need to be perfect.  You simply need to get your initial ideas onto the page.  As you write, concentrate on keeping your sentences short and snappy, while harnessing the poetic devices mentioned earlier.

9. Revise revise revise

Great slam poems are very rarely produced in the first draft.  You will need to revise your poem many times before you reach a point where you love what you have written.  As you revise your work ask for feedback from your friends, family, and teachers.

10. Time your poem

Most slam poetry contests will give each contestant 3 minutes to complete their poem.  Read your poem at a reasonable pace to test its length, you may find that you need to cut a verse or have time to say a little more in the poem.

11. Add some drama to your performance

Slam poetry is a combination of poetry and drama.  Your goal is to elicit some kind of emotional reaction or response from the audience, which means you need to perform your poem in a way that generates an impact.  Feel free to raise your voice when performing parts of the poem that are meant to convey anger or excitement.  Whisper sections that are emotional or poignant.  You may have to practice your poem dozens of times to perfect its delivery.

Richard Hammond

I am the founder of 9Mousai and am deeply interested in creativity and what inspires it. My main passions are writing, film and music but I have huge respect for all the arts. I'm also an animal lover and have a little cat called Winston and enjoy the occasional whiskey or two...

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