Performance poetry. Slam. Spoken word poetry. Storytelling.

These words describe forms of performance art that blend elements of poetry and theater to entertain or move an audience. They are designed to be read out loud or recited from memory, and aren’t limited to one performer. The forms are usually accessible, and poets tend to utilize raw, honest, and heavier content to capture their audience.

Defying Definition

Every variation of the forms listed above, however slight, can be described as a dynamic art form that lends itself to syncopated rhythms found in jazz or hip-hop just as well as the predictability of conventional poetry. The amount of structure is entirely up to the poet, and the blending of different forms, rhyme schemes, rhythm, and poetic and literary devices, coupled with a poets ability to perform, are often what makes a piece interesting. However, this dynamism is also what makes forming a concrete definition elusive.

Emotions can be…

Despairingly difficult to describe. Poetry can help get things out into the light of day so they can be better dealt with. Problems are easier to understand when they are defined, but emotional trauma tends to evade conventional definition.

How do you describe

What a teenage boy feels towards an older male when his own father wasn’t present in his life?

How a girl rescued from human trafficking feels about trust?

Suicidal thoughts?


The state of the human heart after being a victim of rape?


Poetry gives the defining process an adrenaline shot.

It can help you process life. Words, paper, and truth collide along a medium that helps your audience experience what you’re feeling. It’s telling a story that combats loneliness and encourages vulnerability at the same time. Performance poetry can be a tool to redeem pain into a incredibly relevant ally to help others. Right now there are people contending against the same things you are, but are believing that they are alone. What if they heard their own heartbeat from a stage beating against that lie?


Photo: Max Braun - (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Photo: Max Braun – (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Silent Canvas

Spoken word poetry capitalizes on the moment. The period of silence between when the story starts and stops becomes the canvas. The art is in the blending of the technical (verse, rhyme, rhythm, etc) with emotions relevant to the listener. When the subject of the piece (what) identifies with the hearer as much as the way it’s delivered (how) the poem resonates far more with the audience than it would have otherwise. But the beauty of the piece doesn’t necessarily have to come from either the what or the how. For example, a masterful display of alliteration combined with an artistic syncopation of hip-hop might be too fast for a listener to keep up with. However, the sound the audience hears, regardless of their comprehension, just sounds cool. So they like it.


Your Brain is a Goldmine

It’s shimmering with value of things that others want or need to hear. No one else has your voice. No one can make people laugh like you do. No one can make people feel like you can. The edge of spoken word is that merely listening to a piece with emotional charge causes us to think about something that is already bouncing around in our brains in a completely different way. Often, we are forced to draw a conclusion, pick a side, and land for crying out loud. The things we laugh at (or catch ourselves laughing at) can be just as telling of ourselves as the things we openly disdain. Spoken word poetry has a way of throwing reality in our face and demanding that we deal with it, leaving us with the question “what are you going to do now?” Our world desperately needs these reality-checks because our world seems bent on checking out. Hiding behind a distraction doesn’t stop the criminal, liberate the captive, or bring healing. And good grief, if you’re a gifted comedian, please share. Everyone can always use a good laugh.


Still Limited

Still, for all it’s ability to make us think, deliver parables, or burst into laughter…poetry is not a savior. It’s something in between a spotlight and a searchlight. It can shine on the center stage of our intellect and highlight our brilliant sense of humor or our capacity to entertain. However, it can also serve as means for reaching into the shadows of ourselves, pulling out the demons, and bringing them to light. While the latter in and of itself may feel like healing and freedom – it’s only admitting the rotting carcass in the back of our refrigerator needs to be thrown away. In this articulation of pain something beautiful is forged, and this redemption is free to join the good (humor, intellect, etc) that can be shown to the world outright.


How to Deal

I leave actually dealing with whatever carcasses you have rotting in the back of your fridge (metaphorical or not) to some other blog (for now). My hope is that on this journey we get better at polishing the brilliance that already exists within ourselves, and write a few carcasses into the light along the way.