What Slam Poetry Taught Me

I have problems with poetry. At least the modern variety. I still can’t quite bring to admit to myself that my slam poems are ‘poems’. I’ve dubbed them prosetry, because they still resemble prose too much for me to call them full poetry. But I won’t bother you with that soap box, because whatever its definition, it’s beautiful.

So, when I decided last year to enter a slam poetry contest, I was more than a little bit nervous. I’d never written much poetry, never any of the slam variety, and I didn’t really know much about the whole thing. I found out that I loved it. A lot. I discovered a new way to express myself, one that I loved as it combined all of my favorite elements of communication–written word, spoken voice, and body expression. Slam poetry hit me emotionally in a way I hadn’t really expected. But more on that in a minute. Emotional journey aside, I learned a TON about writing. I think learning how to write a good slam poem should be a kick-start place for any aspiring writer, because it really stressed a few things to me.

  1. Imagery. While writing my slam poem, I discovered how to create images for an audience in a way I had never done before. It changed my writing style forever. Here’s what I did: I took the subject I wanted to describe–for this example let’s use a lamppost. Then you make a mental list of things that describe that object: long, straight, stiff, illuminating/making things clearer/help you see what you want. Then you make lists of other things that fall underneath those descriptions: a cane, a candy cane, a tree, a road, the sun. Now you mash them up together until you find something you feel.
  2. Alliteration. You can use words to convey so much more than a meaning. When you way something out loud, there are sounds we like to hear close together. When I wrote my first slam poem I discovered I love alliteration, and now I attempt to add an example every time I can. That was a bad one, but you get the point. Maybe I could have said: attempt to apply alliteration to all my work. Now, lest you say that this only has application in poetry, may I point out that great speech writers of history have used alliteration to help get their point across? Books do it too. It’s cool how sounds, like words, carry connotations with them. So. To continue the example, what are some lamppost like words words that have similar letters in them to the description word tree? stoplight saplings, telephone trees, billboard broadleaves.
  3. Honesty. My writing improved leaps and bounds, because of this principle. In writing, I think it’s important to recognize what you want to accomplish. I realized I could never enter the competition if I was slamming to win. I just couldn’t, because that felt too shallow. Writing a slam poem forced me to think about what I really believe, what I could perform and be passionate about.  This one was especially hard for me to learn though, because what I discovered I wanted to write about was God. In the slam poetry community, religion isn’t often a major theme. But to be honest, it’s a major theme in me, and wouldn’t want to hold anything back. Having learned to be honest with myself though carried over into my other writing. I feel like my characters are more real. Now, Let’s see what we can do with the three elements I learned most from Slam poetry and our example. Here’s what I made, but there’s a million ways it could’ve gone.

Who says a city doesn’t have a forest? Mine does.

There are stoplight saplings at every intersection,

lining the road and guiding the paths of pedestrians everywhere.

There are telephone trees by the highway,

posters plastered to the pole and birds bouncing on the branches.

There are trees in the neighborhood, too—lamppost trees.

Those ones are my favorite. I sit underneath them at night and pick apart the paperweight sky, trying to see the stars.

I like my lamppost trees–little highways to heaven, with a light at the end and everything.

I figure maybe if I look hard enough at the light, I’ll see God in there so he can see me.

He’s standing there on the top of my lamppost tree, watching my neighborhood grow.

I know He’s up there–He winks at me sometimes and the lamppost flickers.

 

 

So there you go. I love slam poetry, and I don’t know where I–or my writing–would be without it.

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