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Tips for New Slam Poets

These tips for new slam poets can make or break your first live slam.

Slam poetry isn't easy, and in most cases, it's insanely intimidating to try out. But, if you are a poet at heart, you can't help yourself from giving it a shot. 

As scary as it can be to perform your slam in front of people, it can definitely be an amazing outlet—and you might even get fans if you get good enough. If you're new and want to learn a little bit about how to make the most of your slam poetry, check out these tips for new slam poets. 

Take time to actually sound out the poems you want to perform.

What works on paper doesn't always work in spoken word. Beautiful and lyrical words on paper might end up sounding pretentious when actually spoken. Things that look like they will sound good and stay on beat might not. 

It's also worth noting that the way that you want to say the words will matter a lot. One of the better tips for new slam poets I've heard is to listen to rap when you write. You'll very likely notice how rappers' inflections and lyrical builds change from song to song—and that can inspire you to come up with a good slam poem using a similar pattern. 

If you aren't sure what your style is quite yet, choose simple wording.

There's a number of reasons why this is one of the best tips for new slam poets. 

Performance-wise, simple wording is way easier to work with and remember onstage. Monosyllabic words are way easier to pronounce and perform than something that's long-winded and difficult to pronounce. Simple words lead to less slip-ups, stutters, and slurred speeches. 

These kinds of words also tend to work with audiences, too. This is because clear, concise, and simple words are often the ones that can elicit the most emotion from people. 

There's no way to mistake what someone's saying when they say words like "alone" or "happy." On the other hand, it can be way harder to get people to become emotional when they're told about things that are "isolationist" or "mirthful." 

Stay true to yourself when you're performing and writing your poetry.

It's insanely hard to muzzle your personality in your writing, even if you're a professional copywriter or journalist. To a point, your personality will always leak through in small bits. 

The thing that many new slam poets assume is that people don't want to hear the real them. This is just not true! The best slam poetry comes from the heart and is done with the kind of passion that you only see when someone is sharing a piece of themselves with the audience. 

Being open about your experiences and emotions isn't always easy, especially in front of a bunch of people, but if you want to really make a bang, use your actual emotions and experiences to come up with a slam poem. 

One of the worst tips for new slam poets I ever heard was to "come up with something marketable." Don't do that! Be relatable, but still make it about you! Stop worrying about turning a profit and start worrying about art for art's sake. You'll do a lot better that way. 

Know the audience that you're performing for, and respect them.

Nothing quite ruins a slam poetry performance like having a poet that doesn't "get" their audience. You will need to match the prose and performance to your audience if you want to get a positive reaction. 

If you're performing in front of an academic group, having a profanity-filled performance involving your tale about sexing up five people will not fly. On the other hand, if you're at a sex-positive poetry event, then yes, that would work. 

Use classic poetry tools and techniques—they work.

Alliteration, repetition, rhyming... all those old school poetry tricks really do work wonders in slam poetry. Don't be shy of them, even if you're worried that you might end up having a hackneyed poem. 

More often than not, the slam poetry that comes from using a wide range of poetry techniques sounds better, is easier to perform, and also tends to be more memorable for audiences. If it works, it works, and that's why I think this is one of the best tips for new slam poets to learn. 

Timing is everything, so focus on your timing during practice.

In many ways, slam poetry is a lot like stand-up comedy: timing, voice, and gestures are everything. The most important aspect, though, is timing. 

A good rule of thumb is to keep slam poetry under three minutes in length; after that time, people tend to get bored. If you go too quickly with your words, your audience won't understand you. So, pace yourself and practice your performance before you go on stage. 

Dramatic pauses and similar aspects of the performance, particularly when they're linked to gestures, also need to be rehearsed before you hit the stage. If you can, videotape yourself to see how it looks. Does it look too fast? Too slow? It's better to find out before you're taking a bow. 

Remember to put the performance in slam poetry performance art.

Slam poetry is just as much about prose as it is about what you're doing on stage. It's not just reading your poetry, it's living it. Slam poetry is an act, so use your acting skills to bring it to life!

Therefore, one of the best tips for new slam poets is to think about what your body will be doing, how you'll be saying your lines, and to focus on memorizing your poem's lines before the big day. Let your inner movie star get onto the stage when you read. 

Choreograph your gestures, facial expressions, and more if you need to. At the end of the day, the energy you put out into your audience will be similar to the energy you'll receive. So, be energetic and have fun with your slam poetry—that's why you're there, right?

Read next: Blue Lips
Skunk Uzeki
Skunk Uzeki

Skunk Uzeki is an androgynous pothead and a hard partier.  When they aren't drinking and causing trouble, they're writing articles about the fun times they have. 

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Tips for New Slam Poets
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