Spotlight on Forms: What is Slam Poetry?

For many people, poetry brings to mind something static: words on a page. But what these people don’t always realize is that poetry has a long and dynamic oral tradition; the first poets would perform their work and it is through these performances that stories and poems were passed down for generations. In a rare combination of the traditional and the modern, slam poetry has brought back aspects of the old style of performance poetry with contemporary themes, making it a truly unique poetic form. Read on to find out more!

slam-poetry The History Behind Slam Poetry

 To give slam poetry a specific birth date, we would probably choose 1987 when Marc Smith established the first official International Poetry Slam in Chicago. That and similar poetry slam competitions in the following years were the first organized events for slam poetry. The form itself developed earlier, and rapidly gained popularity amongst poets looking for new ways to express themselves.

 What is a Poetry Slam?

 Poetry slams are performances done by slam poets, often modeled as a friendly competition between artists. At a typical poetry slam, several judges will be selected (usually at random), and these judges assign each poet a score out of ten after they present their work to the audience. While selecting a winner can be a fairly subjective process, there are a few aspects of slam poetry that are especially valued:

1.)    Originality. Just as no one wants to read a book of poetry that sounds identical to another author, no one wants to hear a performance of slam poetry that sounds identical to another performer. Slam poetry is all about originality and uniqueness, so the more your performance stands out, the better.

2.)    Relatability. Another important detail of a slam poetry piece is that it should be relatable to the audience. Though the story you relate can be personal and meaningful to you, you should also focus on how to broaden the theme of your poem so that everyone listening will understand and become invested in it.

3.)    Power. The power of a good slam poetry piece comes from the emotions it is able to evoke in listeners. Performing your poem with passion is the key!

While slam poetry involves spoken performance, poets do draft and write out their pieces beforehand. Experiment with drafting your own slam poetry piece and see what it results in. If you like what you write, consider submitting it to our poetry contest and show your work to the world!

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