As a spoken word artist, I enjoy consuming the poetry of others as much as I enjoy writing and performing my own. Fresh and new ideas constantly roll off the tongues of other poets whether they are new to the scene or they’ve been around the block a few times.
Another tactic that brings me closer to spoken word is absorbing its historic roots, which can be traced to eras like ancient Greece, Homer in 800BC, Old English Poetry since around the year 400, The Harlem Renaissance and The Beatnicks from the ’50s and ’60s (The Last Poets). Spoken word has been a Mecca for artists of the written and performed word for centuries. Because the internet is so ubiquitous, slam poets have a mammoth forum to parade their work to the broadest of audiences, expanding the growth movement.
If you jump on YouTube and search for ‘spoken word poems’, you will find hoards of slam poets performing their work. Many are well-known artist that have gained attention by incorporating their own style into the art. My suggestion is open about 10 videos from different artists and listen closely. You will see that there is almost no common style thread running through each piece – set aside the fact that they are mostly between 1 – 5 minutes in length. Spoken word artists are cut from different cloths. We are people who have found a way to contrive our life experiences, lobby our initiatives and agendas, and channel our hurt, pain, frustration, anger or joy.
Spoken word poetry is an art that focuses, at its core, on the words themselves. One quality of spoken word artists is they tend to have a general passion for vernacular and vocab. If you’ve got a bumper sticker that says “I <3 Words”, you’re on the right path. If not… well, consider one I guess.
Another quality spoken word artists tend to have is a commanding stage presence, though its not always innate – its learned. The “acting”, or the actual performance of a slam poem, is what anthropomorphizes the words. Even if the words are perfect and tell a compelling, captivating portrayal of an event, moment or feeling, if the performance is weak, the poem will go virtually unnoticed. The dominance of a stage is something that most slam poets will grow into if its not natural; its a quality that can help separate the wheat from the chaff.
Though usually scripted on paper to start, spoken word poems don’t stand a chance to be interpreted correctly without the artists’ performance. The performance of spoken word is how one can outwardly project the meaning, the nuances, the energy, the vivid emotion and the visual intentions of a piece. The performance part comes with practice. I was nervous about performing at first, but here’s a trick: always write with personal passion. If you believe so strongly in your words – so much so that you might even leak tears when you’re writing or practicing them – then your passion will automatically bring your performance from a 2 to a 6. That’s a damn good start. You don’t have to be an actor; you do have to believe.