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What Is Spoken Word Poetry?
Spoken word poetry is a word-based performance art where speakers engage in powerful self-expression by sharing their views on particular topics for a live audience, focusing on sound and presentation. Spoken word performances require memorization, performative body language (like gestures and facial expressions), enunciation, and eye contact with viewers.
Spoken word poetry is a form of poetry that doesn’t have to rhyme, but certain parts can be rhymed to emphasize an image or give it a lyrical quality. Spoken word poems will sometimes contain elements of hip-hop, folk music, or jazz to enhance the rhythmic presentation.
How to Write Spoken Word Poetry
Writing spoken word poetry takes both skill and an ability to express emotion through written words spoken aloud. If you’re looking to create your own spoken-word piece, check out the following tips for writing this passionate oral art form:
- Pick a topic you’re passionate about. Spoken word performances are filled with emotion, so before you even start writing, make sure the subject you’re tackling is something you feel strongly about or can generate a lot of feelings toward. Spoken word poems can cover topics—however, there is usually a central focus to broader topics. For example, the topic of “family” might delve into how your grandmother inspired you, or how a close relationship with a cousin shaped you, or how your favorite teacher became like a parental figure to you. Spoken word poetry can also cover life experiences, like growing up in a broken home, or it can answer a personal question about yourself, like “What are you most afraid of?” It could be a unique perspective on social justice, the first time you experienced a broken heart, or a memory that’s stayed with you after all these years.
- Write the gateway line. The gateway line is like your poem’s thesis—it lets the audience know what you’re going to be talking about. While your first line prepares viewers for your subject matter, the rest of the poem should be spent reinforcing, supporting, and expanding on that initial idea.
- Focus on sensory details. You want the audience to be put right in the scene you’re verbally crafting for them, and the best way to do that is to write vividly. Write what you want the audience to be seeing, hearing, feeling, tasting, and smelling throughout your entire piece, and use literary devices like metaphors or similes to create comparisons. You’re not just memorizing a poem to read back to people, you’re trying to immerse them into your world, if only for a moment. Vivid descriptions will create impactful, memorable images, which is exactly what you want when writing performance poetry.
- Use repetition and wordplay. Repeating certain lines or words in a piece can emphasize an image or idea for your audience. Repeated lines have staying power in a person’s mind and are effective in getting them to remember particular scenes. Wordplay is also used often, crafting a clever mix of pictures, feelings, and sounds for those watching and listening. Including some of this in your writing can give your poem a more sophisticated or creative feel.
- Make it sound good. Spoken word poetry is written to be read aloud, so the way the poem itself sounds is just as important as the content of the written words. Poetic devices like onomatopoeia, alliteration, and assonance are ways to introduce a more rhythmic feel to the words you write. A rhyme scheme isn’t necessary, but rhyming particular words or lines together can enhance your message or story when used properly.
- Set your poem aside for a while, then revise it. Sometimes when you get caught up in the emotion of writing a passionate piece, you realize there are things you could have said better. Walking away from the first draft of your poem can help you collect your feelings and revisit your work with fresh eyes, allowing any new thoughts, clarifications, or emotions regarding your topic to further shape how you deliver your piece.
- Watch others perform. You can get a better feel for rhythm, structure, and cadence when you hear experienced spoken word artists do it. Watch some of the best spoken word poetry either live or on the internet to understand how to craft great lines with impact. Pay attention to how they use their space and the language they use—it may inspire you to approach your own creative writing more boldly.
- End with an image. Your conclusion should wrap up your story for the audience, or leave them with a lingering thought or feeling. It could be one of hope, it could be one of pain, it could be one of a lesson learned—however you decide to conclude your piece, it should tie in with the message of the poem as a whole. What should viewers take away from this performance? What should they know about you after watching? You don’t need a neat ending, but you do need one that creates a lasting impression.
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