A Verbal Aesthetic: Notes on Spoken Word
Written by
Ami Mattison
February 2011
Written by
Ami Mattison
February 2011

I’ve written and performed dozens of spoken word poems, yet I can’t tell you in easy steps how to write any kind of poem, much less how to write a spoken word poem. Poetry, generally speaking, defies those kinds of recipes and instructions.

Plus, there are no hard-and-fast rules for spoken word poetry. Like poetry in general, spoken word poetry can’t be boxed-in.

Still, how to write spoken word is a concern for many would-be performers. So, I want to offer some notes, or general observations, on spoken word as a poetic style and form that tends to exhibit some particular artistic qualities.

The Importance of an Audience

Spoken word simply doesn’t exist without a live audience. In that sense, it depends upon its audience in a way that written poetry does not.

Slam, which is a popular and competitive form of spoken word, exemplifies this dependence. For a slam competition, random members of the audience are chosen to judge the quality of the content and the performance of the poems.

As such, slam is a democratic art form. The success (or failure) of a spoken word poem and its performance is how well it speaks to any random person and not necessarily someone “schooled” in poetry or even in spoken word. Slam, then, strives to speak to a wide range of diverse audiences.

The Power of Accessibility

Because spoken word relies so heavily on a live audience, it must somehow manage to speak itself in a way that makes its various images and metaphors easily apparent, or accessible to a listener. Sure, a lot of spoken word poems need to be heard several times to appreciate all the nuances of meanings. But its success depends upon being able to convey its meanings in a single performance. Read the rest of the article at poetryNprogress.

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  • Ami Mattison

    Shari, the interesting thing about spoken word is that it isn't limited to a particular style of reading/performing. It's much broader than most consider. I'd class the development of your unique voice and poetry spoken aloud--whatever that may be and however it may sound--as spoken word.

    Also, it took me a while to really find my own reading/performing voice and to develop it in ways that a listening audience might find interesting and enjoy. All this to say, I do hope when you're ready you'll share with me the results of your experimentations with audio. Thanks for your comments! 

  • I appreciate your encouragement, Ami. But it's not really spoken word. I just want to put my style and voice to my words. My poetry doesn't really lend itself to spoken word, as, that to me is performance art, theatrical and far more vibrant and animated than my lines call for. More animated than me too.


    My motivation is that I once had my very lovely wedding poem, Mine, read like a dirge and it was very disappointing. My fault for not reading it. Other readings of my poems have left me cold, too. My small goal is to present a body of the audio interpretation of my style, the voice behind the lines...one day soon.

  • Ami Mattison

    Thanks, Shari! How exciting that you might try your hand at some spoken word! I say, go for it! Glad you found the blog and the articles useful. Feel free to stop by again!

  • Reading your poetryNprogress blog has given me some great ideas, insights and inspirations. I really enjoyed your review on spoken word poetry and the excellent video sampling. I was totally drawn in by the rhythms and the words I heard. Made me want to try my hand at it. Thank you.

  • Ami Mattison

    Thanks for checking out the post, Meadow! Glad you found it interesting!

  • Meadow Braun

    interesting to see this broken down... thanks for the post!