5 Easily Avoidable Mistakes When Writing Slam Poetry
Once upon a time, I got caught up in actually writing too much poetry. My hands caught fire and couldn't even keep up with my thoughts; my fingers had windburn from typing so furiously.
Looking back, there were some pitfalls I fell victim to during that time. Now I try to avoid certain elementary errors. I wanted to share a few with you to help keep your slam poetry writing in check. This will be short and sweet, but hopefully useful.
You can also consider this a few tips on how to improve your own spoken word performances.
Slam Poetry Blunder #1
My first mistake was when I began to create spoken word pieces just for an audience. I had been caught up in the moment and hype of performing for a group - I loved the feeling. Post-performance, I was attracted to the positive comments I got (this ties back to a deep emotional issue, but one day I'll share that when I write about my heroin addiction).
That heated moment had me hooked. I just wanted to live it over and over again - kind of like a first high; addicts always try to "chase the dragon" and get that initial feeling again.
So I would just crank out more poems. The problem was, they were meaningless. I was writing just to write - the poetry wasn't prompted or based on a feeling, emotion, event, etc. My words became more and more empty and I was only devoted to stylizing them.
Bad move. My spoken word pieces were shitty when I wrote only for the audience.
Moral of the story: try to write your slam poetry because you have a cause. Write about events or emotions that matter to you and affect you. Otherwise you're going to come out shallow.
Slam Poetry Blunder #2
Slam poetry is a teaching tool. As much as its about sending a message and transmitting feelings, spoken word poems are something people can learn from. That means when you're a performer on stage, you're also an educator. One of the gaffes you can commit is the oversight of reality, or not conveying legitimate information. Incorrect facts or statistics can get you in a heap of trouble in the long run. Using factual matters will steer you clear of this avoidable blunder.
So here's my suggestion: put some research into your slam poetry. It will help you avoid indiscretion, and your veracity will be rewarded when your work is remembered on multiple levels - being on the forefront of performance and emotion, and at the same time teaching someone.
Slam Poetry Blunder #3
My third technical foul that slam poets should be wary of is writing and performing a piece that has a dubious message. In other words, your stance or position on a certain issue or topic should be very defined and backed up throughout the piece.
I've seen some poor examples of slam poetry - and I generally don't put down the work of another poet - but I've seen some instances where I was left unsure of what was being conveyed. One case (I won't share the examples to save the face of the poet) was a young man who wrote a poem about the education system. I think education in general is a fantastic topic for spoken word. But in this particular poem, I was left without understanding if the poet was in favor of, or against, his experience in school. He simply relayed something that happened. The piece lacked analogy and feeling. Overall, the message was questionable and both sides of the story were arguable. This basically violated my first blunder as well - he was just writing to have something that sounded cool to perform. No bueno!
Slam Poetry Blunder #4
The fourth slam poetry blunder I want to mention is a really simple one to bypass: poor grammar!
Let's be real - slam poetry has a bad name in a lot of forums. Spoken word poets are often seen as lower class, associated with delinquency and stamped with a forbidden birthmark. Just do some searching and you'll unfortunately find haters saying these things in a number of places.
I know this not to be true. I know slam poets who are the some of the brightest, most loving people I've ever met.
One thing the movement can do to combat negativity is to show some intelligence on stage. Verbal ignorance really doesn't have a place in the spoken word world.
Granted, some poems purposely use poor grammar - completely understood.
But here's my suggestion - proofread! Use a dictionary, use a thesaurus, and pay close attention to grammar so you ensure you're using the structural rules that govern proper reading and speaking. Your linguistic friends will like you much better (get it?)
Slam Poetry Blunder #5
My final crack on slam poets who aren't getting it done is that their performance isn't memorable. They don't explode. And that doesn't mean your poem has to be life altering, it doesn't mean screaming, yelling or waving your arms wildly (yes, 22 Jump Street reference), and it certainly doesn't mean mimicking everyone predecessor that took foot on a stage at a slam.
It means that using the tools which are most fit to your style and work, you've found a way to enter the hearts and minds of the audience and resonate your tune. Every slam poet must make the effort to find their individualism, then figure out the proper way to mix words, style, intonation and a slew of other devices and poetic tools to hit the right notes and become something memorable. That's how slam poetry makes a difference in peoples' lives, and can make a difference in the world.
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How to Write Slam Poetry: a 9 Step Guide