Performance poetry used to be an Olympic event in Ancient Greece. In fact, they held a whole bunch of literary events. I think I would have done a lot better on sports day if we had a spoken word competition. Times have changed since then, but performance poetry is making a massive comeback.
I can already hear you asking some questions...
Isn’t spoken word just reading your poems aloud?
Well, kind of. But often spoken word poems tend to be longer poems that last on average about three minutes. More like an epic poem.
So what’s the difference between slam poetry, performance poetry and spoken word?
In all honesty, very little. The three terms are accredited to different places and times. Generally, if you incorporate music or dance it’s referred to as performance poetry because it’s all part of performing arts. Whereas slam poetry tends to refer to spoken word poetry in a competitions which don't use other media.
What exactly happens in a slam?
Well the general format is that each poet performs their piece and gets judged by a panel of five members selected from the audience. Each performance is then scored out of ten. At slam events you are judged on your performance and ability to memorize your poem. You get three minutes to perform your poem and often in the a slam you are not allowed props, music, dancing or anything that you would be allowed with performance poetry.
But if I go to a slam, will I get judged for my age or anything like that?
The idea behind slams are that they are not discriminating - after all, everyone has their own opinion on what art is. You aren’t being judged by your credentials but more for your poem. Infact there is a special slam group in the UK for 12-18 year olds called Slambassadors.
I don’t know if I would want to perform, could I just watch?
Yes, most Slam events are open to the public, which means performance isn't mandatory. I would advise going and checking out some Slams before you take part.
What if I like the sound of performance poetry and don’t want to limit my poem to a time limit?
You would be in luck because there is always the alternative of open mic sessions. These are not competitive and therefore there are limited rules as you are just performing for entertainment.
All this sounds great but could you give us some examples of some performance poetry so we know what we are basing our own work from?
Of course, check out some of these:
Polar Bear (Steve Camden) – Heart burn
Sabrina Mahfouz – Red Raving Hood
Kate Tempest – My Shakespeare