How To Poetry Slam: A Detailed Guide

Are you wondering how to poetry slam? If you have to write a slam poem, learn more about this type of poetry below.

Spoken word poetry has become incredibly popular. It isn’t just the words on the page that matter, but how you deliver them. That is what sets slam poets apart from other types of writers and poets. When you attend a poetry competition, your slam poem has to grab and hold the attention of the audience members. Many people learn how to write different forms of poetry in high school, but you might want to use your slam poetry at a national poetry slam in New York City, Chicago, or other major cities.

If you want to use your original work at poetry readings, take a look at a few steps you need to follow when writing slam poetry.

Materials Needed

If you want to write slam poetry, there are several essential materials you need to have. They include:

  • The rules of the poetry contest might specify the form your poem must take or the time limit you have
  • Several pieces of paper for your drafts
  • A computer with a strong internet connection
  • Writing utensils, such as pencils and pens

Depending on your personal preference, you may also want to have a camera with a recording device you can use to practice reading your poem. Remember that you may want to encourage audience participation during your poem reading. You may want to see your poem’s sounds before you finalize it. That way, you can adjust the reading, cadence, and word choice to maximize your poem’s impact on your audience.

If you are ready to start your slam poem, take a look at a few steps you should follow. 

Step 1: Watch Slam Poems in Action

Before you start writing your slam poem, you may want to look at some poets who have presented their work in the past. For example, you may want to swing by a local coffee shop to see if there is a poetry competition. Or, a slam poetry session may occur in a local auditorium.

You may even want to use the internet to see if more significant competitions are happening in the region. If you cannot find a competition taking place in the local area, you may want to use YouTube to help you. Then, you can take a look at different types of slam poems. For example, some people like to use a more formal reading style, while other people might want to go with a stream of consciousness.

There is more than one way to present a slam poem, so try to listen to various poetry readings. As you listen to these poems, take notes about what you like and don’t like. Then, if you find poems, try to write down a few reasons why you like those options. That way, you have something to model your poem after you start. 

You might also enjoy learning about sonnets.

Step 2: Pick a Topic

Next, you need to choose the right topic for your slam poem. Before starting, look at the competition’s rules to see if you have to stick to a specific framework. That way, you don’t get started on your poem only to realize that you have to change the topic later.

If you have free reign over the topic you can choose, pick something you are passionate about. It could be a specific person who has significantly impacted your life. Or, it could be a major event that took place recently. There might be a significant issue in the world that you want to explore.

When you write about something that inspires you to action, the words are more likely to flow from your mind accurately. Remember that you will be presenting this to an audience. If the audience can tell you are passionate about your topic, they will be more likely to participate. Regardless of how the competition is being judged, your poem will go better if you write on a topic you are passionate about. 

Looking for more? Check out our guide on how to write a haiku.

Step 3: Focus on the Five Senses

Now that you have a topic, it is time to start putting words on the page. Remember that you don’t have to develop a finished poem as you write your first draft. Instead, getting a few words on the page that you can jumble around later is essential. As you select the words you want to include in your poem, try to focus on the five senses.

Ideally, it would help if you wrote a poem that focuses on all five of the senses themselves. For example, instead of writing the line, “I ate a steak,” you need to find a way to make it more interesting. For example, you may want to write something like, “I cut into a beautiful steak with 90-degree grill lines pressed into the surface that was so tender I thought I didn’t need a knife at all.”

Step 4: Form Stanzas With the Words

Once you have a lot of words down on the page, it is time to start putting together stanzas. Try to group words that flow naturally. While you need to pair words that make sense, you must also think about the spoken rhythm. Your poem does not necessarily have to rhyme, but it can help if your words rhyme together.

Just because you are putting together stanzas doesn’t mean you must stop generating new content for the poem. If something strikes your fancy, consider incorporating it into the poem. This draft does not have to be your final copy. You may even want to put together multiple options you can read aloud. 

Step 5: Edit the Poem

Once you feel like you have a solid draft, it is time to start editing the poem. The only way you can edit your poem for poetry slam is to read it aloud. You need to focus not only on the content but also on the spoken rhythm. If you find yourself stumbling over specific lines in the poem, you may need to edit the word choice to make it flow better.

If you come across too long lines, you know they need to be cut, rearranged or moved around. Do not hesitate to cut and change the words of the poem. The goal is to put together the best possible poem, so take the time to get the words right. If you are looking for synonyms you can use to replace certain words; you may want to use an online thesaurus to help you.  After you have edited the poem, read it out loud again. Go through the process until you feel like you have a draft that flows smoothly from start to finish.

Step 6: Add Some Drama 

Now, it is time for you to add some drama to the poem. But, again, remember that if you get the audience to react, you could get a better score. So whether you want your audience to laugh, gasp, cry, or yell back at you, it would help if you found a way to target the emotions of the people listening to the poem.

One of the best ways to do so is to consider reading your poem aloud to other people. For example, you may want to read it to friends and family members. This is also an opportunity for you to get some feedback from them. See if there are words they think are more important than others. Ask them what they think about the word choice. See if you are reading at an appropriate pace for them.

Your friends and family may also provide suggestions on how to increase your dramatic reading. For example, do you need to whisper in some place? Do you need to shout in some places? Do you need to read faster or slower? If you demonstrate that you are in control of the reading, you will have an easier time holding the audience’s attention. Finally, dramatize the poem, and practice reading it to friends and family members.

How to Poetry Slam: Top Tips

If you want to get the most out of your slam poem, you should keep several essential points in mind. They include:

1. Be Original, But Have a Source of Inspiration

As you put together your slam poem, you must be original. You do not want to be accused of plagiarism; however, every poet has a source of inspiration. Figure out what can inspire you to craft a beautiful slam poem.

For example, you may have taken a trip somewhere, which you can use as fuel for your slam poem. If that is the case, consider having a picture book next to you from the trip. If you have someone you want to write about in your life, you may want to talk to that person before you start writing. Again, have a source of inspiration you can use to craft an original poem. 

2. Make the Poem Relatable

When in doubt, a more straightforward poem is better. Remember that a significant portion of your score will be based on how the audience reacts to your poem. If you can put together a relatable poem, you will have an easier time keeping the audience involved.

For example, even though there might be a lot of fancy poetry terms from creative writing you want to incorporate into your slam poem, you need to choose subjects and themes that the vast majority of people can relate to. For example, you may want to write about family problems, religion, politics, and insecurities. Make sure there is a message you can convey with your poem. 

3. Remember That There Is a Time Limit

Participating in a poetry slam competition doesn’t get you to talk as long as you want. There is a time limit that you have to stick to. At a lot of poetry slams, you get three minutes to perform. Even though you certainly want to maximize your opportunity to make an impact on the audience, you can lose points if you speak for too long. That is why you need to practice your poem ahead of time.

You need to think about the number of words you include in your poem and how fast you read them. Don’t rush through your content, as you might not have as great of an impact on your audience. On the other hand, you may want to shorten the poem if you are going over the time limit. 

4.  Convey Emotion in Your Reading

Once you are confident that you have a poem, you must practice reading it with emotion.  You want to get the audience involved, so you must consider your delivery.  How fast do you want to speak? Then, do you want to inject a bit more emotion?  What are the most critical moments in the poem?  Finally, you may want to practice reading it to your friends and family to see their thoughts. 

5.  Memorize Your Poem

How To Poetry Slam: Memorize your poem
If the poem is memorized, you can focus on the audience instead of your piece of paper

A lot of poetry slams will require you to memorize your poem. Even if it is not required, you should try to memorize the poem anyway. If the poem is memorized, you can focus on the audience instead of your piece of paper.  Then you focus on the audience; it is easier for you to get them involved. You can make eye contact with people who appear to be entranced in your poem, increasing the level of audience participation you get. This can help you score more points at the poetry slam.

If you liked this article and want to put these ideas into practice, check out our round-up of storytelling exercises.

  • Meet Rachael, the editor at Become a Writer Today. With years of experience in the field, she is passionate about language and dedicated to producing high-quality content that engages and informs readers. When she's not editing or writing, you can find her exploring the great outdoors, finding inspiration for her next project.