Metrical Monday: Spoken Word and the Art of Slam Poetry

Welcome to the official start of Poetry Week in honor of National Poetry Month!

Today’s post is about spoken word, also known as “Slam Poetry.” In simple terms, slam poetry is the competitive art of performance poetry. According to Poetry Slam, Inc., slam poetry “puts a dual emphasis on writing and performance, encouraging poets to focus on what they’re saying and how they’re saying it.” says, “One of the most vital and energetic movements in poetry during the 1990s, slam has revitalized interest in poetry in performance.”

Now, while this might seem or look easy, I can say from personal experience, it’s extremely hard! Not only do poets need to write meaningful lyrics, they must practice and rehearse their lines meticulously. Great verses with powerful meanings will only get a slammer so far: the power of the piece is mostly from the poet’s delivery.

For example, take a look at the video below of high school teenager Taylor Phillips performing her poem:

Another example is the wonderful Eric Darby performing his poem at the 2005 National Poetry Slam Individual Semifinals:

Watch Saul Williams perform his popular piece “Coded Language” at Def Poetry Jam:

Here is a great example of the convergence of poetry and performance from Katie Makkai, a veteran poetry slammer. In her poem, she defines the word “pretty” (the whole transcript can be found here):

And below is one of my favorite videos ever. Taylor Mali, one of the most well-known poets to have emerged from the poetry slam movement, gives his mind on what teachers make:

If you’re interested in learning more about slam poetry, check out the great resources below:

* Poetry Slam, Inc.- A non-profit organization dedicated to expanding the art of spoken word. They oversee the international coalition of poetry slams.

* The Nuyorican Poets Cafe- A cultural icon on New York’s Lower East Side since 1973. The Nuyorican presents groundbreaking works of literature, music, theater, performance art, poetry slam, hip hop, visual art and champions established as well as rising artists from every background imaginable.

* 2011 National Poetry Slam- The annual poetry slam championship tournament, wherein 4-5 person teams from all over North America and Europe gather to compete against each other for the national title. Staged in a different city each year, the National Poetry Slam has emerged as slam’s highest-profile showcase.

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2 comments on “Metrical Monday: Spoken Word and the Art of Slam Poetry

  1. Cialina on said:

    Ooooh! I love Taylor Mali’s What Teachers Make as well as some of his other stuff. We had a unit on poetry this semester and we ended up watching a lot of poetry slam videos. Saul Williams is great too. :)

  2. Serena on said:

    I really enjoy slam poetry as an audience member, but have been unable to commit enough to doing it myself. I’m more of a writer than a speaker, so slam is far outside my comfort range. I do like reading my poems aloud, but delivery is not my strength. There are some great slam poets in the DC/MD/VA area, and many of them showcase their talents at Poetry Out Loud competitions and the Bethesda Literary Festival. You can check those out: and

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