How NOT to Write Spoken Word Poetry

headshotAuthor: Madeline Kohlberg

Bio: Madeline Kohlberg is working on her first novel that didn’t transform into a short story, and has high hopes to be able to continue that trend up until its completion.  When not writing, she’s a tutor, student assistant, big sister, one-match campfire starter and roaster of the perfect marshmallow.  


So, you’re thinking about getting into spoken word poetry?

Some writing isn’t content to live on a page. It begs to be set free, to be performed and celebrated for everyone to hear. It’s not a song. It’s not a speech or a soliloquy, nor is it poetry in the traditional sense of the word. It’s an art form. The written word and the performer come together to create something new.

If you’re interested in playing with the wonderful world of spoken word poetry, here are a few things to keep in mind. Remember, this is art.

  1. Never listen to other spoken word poets.

All writing is better when it comes directly from the soul; allowing other writers and performers to influence what you write is unthinkable and should always be discouraged. Spoken word poetry allows you to express yourself not only in writing, but in the actual presentation as well. It doesn’t matter what other people think this whole writing this is about; they aren’t you!

  1. Remember that you must choose your subjects carefully; controversy is a no-no.

Self expression is only a small part of this art form; your attitude must be carefully constructed. The way you present yourself and your ideas matters, and it bears remembering that spoken poetry is not a medium for trying to present a radically different view of the world. Keep it safe, keep it familiar.

  1. Make sure your work is easily accessible to your audience.

The actual words you put onto the page are vitally important; you must choose words that will help ensure your audience can understand what you have to say. Always assume they will need you to walk them through your ideas; cliché ideas and images are always ideal because they’re familiar to the audience and will not require them to think.

  1. Read, don’t memorize.

You spent all this time writing the poem, you need to make sure that you get it right the first time. Forgetting a word or (God forbid) an entire line would be devastating. Improvisation is most emphatically frowned upon. Why spend all that time composing a poem if you’re going to change it anyway when you perform?

  1. No really, read.

Performance only takes you so far; the most important factor is remembering that your “spoken word” poem is just like any other poem. You might be speaking it out loud now, but the fact is that anyone could read this poem and understand what you’re talking about. The performing aspect isn’t actually that important. All that matters are the words.

It’s your job to make sure the audience understands what you have to say; this should be taken very seriously.  Fun should never come into play here.  You have a duty, so go out and show the world what you can do!