I Slam Therefore I am


Slam poetry is spoken-word poetry with attitude. A poetry slam is a contest for performers of this spoken word art in which poets are judged for their ability to convey a mood or feeling with their words, imagery and vocal style. Slam poetry began in Chicago in the 1980s, and now it’s so widespread that even some high schools have slam poetry teams that compete with other schools.


slam poetry

Slam was born as a way of expressing oneself briefly, powerfully and impactfully.

Important tip: slam poems themselves rarely work well alone on the page, divorced from the actuality—or even the memory—of the poet’s voice, breath, and body.

Let’s watch this video from ted.com giving us useful tips to write our slam poem.

Misconceptions about slam:

1) Slam poetry is solely the domain of urban youth and hip-hop culture (like Eminem doing the dozens! Isn’t he a slam poet?)

2) Slam poetry is the same as beat poetry, which is the same as beatnik poetry (and therefore, if you go to a poetry slam, there will be snapping, berets, and soup bowls of coffee)

3) Slam poetry was a fad that died in the ’90s after Maggie Estep (like Doc Martens, ska, swing dancing, and baby-doll dresses)

4) Slam poets actually engage in physical combat, slamming one another to the ground and putting each other in headlocks.

It is extremely important to observe spoken word poets and learn from their performances. Observe what they put into their performance and how they grab the attention of the audience. Look at what gestures they make when performing a poem and determine what will work best for your individual performance.  Do not copy another person’s style, however. It is important to find your own performance style to express yourself. Rehearse the poem several times before performing in front of a live audience so you feel more comfortable.


Watch two great spoken performers that can teach us great lessons: slamming is about being ourserlves, loving ourselves the way we are, standing up and speaking out.

What are the issues these two poets raise?  How do they make their point? How do they raise awareness?  What aspect of their performance did you like the most? Why?

Here you find the script to Sarah Kay’s spoken word performance:


If you want to read and listen to other poems by Sarah’s click here to access her webpage.

Here you can find the words of Shane’s poem “To This Day”:


If you have an ipad or a tablet, you can download the App.  It is free and it is great.  I love it!  Hope you will like it too.

Should you like to know more about this spoken word artist, click here to get to his webpage.

What would you like to slam about?

Let’s take one step at a time.

Let’s make things easier (at least this is my objective!) for you.

I chose a nice slam poem dealing with the issue of discrimination.  It is performed by a young poet, so closer to you in age, thus hopefully more appealing to you.  The text will help you with the appreciation of the scope of this performance.

Please mind the gap.
Yes please mind the gap between you and me.
The gap caused solely by ethnicity
And the hue of the skin that covers me
200 years after the abolition of slavery
So please mind the gap.
Your skin protects you
And my skin does what?
My skin betrays me cos it’s not what they want.
They being you, members of this ‘multicultural’ society,
Where skin tone nor background is not what we see.
May I disagree, or would that be seen as aggression because it’s coming from me?
So please mind the gap
Content of character is only looked at after the fact that I’m from Africa.
Stacked up on that slave boat like a box of cargo,
Not knowing for how long they were stuck or where they were gonna go.
Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King cried so freedom songs we could sing.
And here we are, back on platform one,
wishing a freer future for our sons.
So please mind the gap.
Yes, please mind the gap between you and me.
The gap that doesn’t need to be.
The Lord said come as you are: gentile, Jew, slave or free,
Black, white or Indian Cherokee.

What traits of slam poetry can you identify?

Now watch the following performance.  What does Katie Makkai denounce with her slam?  What does she want to share with the audience?  What important point does she make?  Do you share her view?  Why (not)? Is the theme of her slam close to you?  Why (not)?

The text under the video will help you should you struggle with the understanding of her performance.

When I was just a little girl I asked my mother WHAT WILL I BE? WILL I BE PRETTY? WILL I BE PRETTY? WILL I BE PRETTY? What comes next? All right. Will I be rich, which is almost pretty depending on where you shop. And the pretty question infects from conception passing blood and breath into cells the word hangs from our mothers’ hearts in a shrill fluorescent floodlight of worry. WILL I BE WANTED? WORTHY? PRETTY? But puberty left me this fun house mirror dry ad, teeth set at science fiction angles, crooked nose, face donkey-long and pockmarked when the hormones went finger painting MY POOR MOTHER. HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN? YOU’LL HAVE PORCELAIN SKIN AS SOON AS WE CAN SEE A DERMATOLOGIST, YOU SUCKED YOUR THUMB THAT’S WHY YOUR TEETH LOOK LIKE THAT, YOU WERE HIT IN THE FACE WITH A FRISBY WHEN YOU WERE SIX OTHERWISE YOUR NOSE WOULD HAVE BEEN JUST FINE, DON’T WORRY, WE’LL GET IT ALL FIXED, SHE WOULD SAY. Grasping my face, twisting it this way, then that as though it were a cabbage she might buy. But this is not about her, not her fault, she too was raised to believe the greatest asset she could bestow upon her awkward little girl was a marketable façade. By sixteen I was pickled with ointments, medications, paroxides, teeth coralled into steel prongs laying in a hospital bed face packed with gauze cushioning the brand new nose the surgeon had carved. Belly gorged on two pints of my own blood I had swallowed under anaesthesia and every convulsive twist of my gut like my body screaming at me from the inside out, “WHAT… DID YOU LET THEM DO TO YOU?” All the while this never ending chorus droning on and on like the IV needle dripping liquid beauty into my blood WILL I BE PRETTY? WILL I BE PRETTY? like my mother unwinding the giftwrap to reveal the bouquet of daughter her 10 thousand dollars bought her – pretty pretty: And now I have not seen my own face in ten years. I HAVE NOT SEEN MY OWN FACE IN TEN YEARS. But this is not about me. This is about the self-mutilating circus we have painted ourselves clowns in, about women who will prowl thirty storeys in six malls to find the right cocktail dress but who haven’t a clue where to find fulfilment or how to wear joy wandering through life shackled to a shopping bag beneath the tyranny of those two pretty syllables, about men wallowing on bar stools drearily practising attraction and everyone who will drift home tonight crestfallen because not enough strangers have found you suitably fuckable. This is about my own someday daughter when you approach me already stung, stained with insecurity begging MUM WILL I BE PRETTY? Will I be pretty? I will wipe that question from your mouth like cheap lipstick and answer NO. The word PRETTY is unworthy of everything you will be and no child of mine will be contained in five letters, you will be pretty INTELLIGENT, pretty CREATIVE, pretty AMAZING, but you will never be merely pretty!

Katie Makkai, National Poetry Slam, 2002

By now you have been able to grasp lots of important features of slam poetry.  Let’s recap them in a neat and clear way for you all:

Slam Poetry doesn’t need to be a specific form of poetry. With that in mind, here are some common factors you’ll find in slam poems.

Make it original. It begins with an idea, feeling or story that the writer feels compelled to express. Writers can look to their personal experiences for ideas or take inspiration from the news, from songs, or from other poems or writings. The poet should express his/her feelings in his/her own voice, however, even when using another’s work as a starting point.

Time. Each poet has 3 minutes to perform. The poet should ask if the poem is working as intended. If not, slam poet Gayle Danley advises cutting the fat. Remove any phrases, references or digressions that weigh the poem down.

Simple & Relatable. Your poem should be able to reach your audience the first time it’s heard. Read and perform it for family & friends before competing. Ask them what is clear and what is not. Choose themes and subjects that many people can relate to, like relationships, politics, religion, insecurity, family-social issues, etc. Your poem should be clear and convey a message.

Rhythmic & Passionate. Your poem should have a rhythm that shows through your passionate performance. A slam poem moves the audience through different moods. How the poem is performed is at least as important as the content if not more! The poet needs to use dynamic words, imagery and performance styles to captivate an audience. Repetition is a popular and effective method for grabbing attention. Rhyming words are pleasing to the ear and can add cohesion to a piece. The writer should choose language that conveys an opinion or expresses an attitude.

(adapted from http://www.powerpoetry.org and http://www.ehow.com)

Should you need extra help, I would love you to address to the videos  Lyric Tips for Spoken Word Music Performances

Before you engage in your first slam, I would love you to watch the artist Prince Ea.  Listen carefully to his performance (the text will help you) and then do your slam in reply to his (if you disagree with him) or in support of his (if you agree with his point).

The world is coming to an end
The air is polluted, the oceans contaminated
The animals are going extinct, the economy’s collapsed
Education is shot, police are corrupt
Intelligence is shunned and ignorance rewarded
The people are depressed and angry
We can’t live with each other and we can’t live with ourselves
So everyone’s medicated
We pass each other on the streets
And if we do speak it’s meaningless robotic communication
More people want 15 seconds of fame
Than a lifetime of meaning and purpose
Because what’s popular is more important than what’s right
Ratings are more important than the truth
Our government builds twice as many prisons than schools
It’s easier to find a Big Mac than an apple
And when you find the apple
It’s been genetically processed and modified
Presidents lie, politicians trick us
Race is still an issue and so is religion
Your God doesn’t exist, my God does and he is All-Loving
If you disagree with me I’ll kill you
Or even worse argue you to death
92% of songs on the radio are about sex
Kids don’t play tag, they play twerk videos
The average person watches 5 hours of television a day
And it’s more violence on the screen than ever before
Technology has given us everything we could ever want
And at the same time stolen everything we really need
Pride is at an all time high, humility, an all time low
Everybody knows everything, everybody’s going somewhere
Ignoring someone, blaming somebody
Not many human beings left anymore, a lot of human doings
Plenty of human lingerings in the past, not many human beings
Money is still the root of all evil
Yet we tell our kids don’t get that degree
The jobs don’t pay enough
Good deeds are only done when there’s a profit margin
Videos of the misfortunes of others go viral
We laugh and share them with our friends to laugh with us
Our role models today
60 years ago would have been examples of what not to be
There are states where people can legally be discriminated against Because they were born a certain way
Companies invest millions of dollars hiring specialists to make Little girls feel like they need “make up” to be beautiful Permanently lowering their self esteem
Because they will never be pretty enough
To meet those impossible standards
Corporations tell us buy, buy, buy, get this, get that
You must keep up, you must fit in
This will make you happy, but it never does for long
So what can we do in the face of all of this madness and chaos?
What is the solution? We can love
Not the love you hear in your favorite song on the radio
I mean real love, true love, boundless love
You can love, love each other
From the moment we wake up to the moment we go to bed
Perform an act of kindness because that is contagious
We can be mindful during every interaction
Planting seeds of goodness
Showing a little more compassion than usual
We can forgive
Because 300 years from now will that grudge you hold against Your friend, your mother, your father have been worth it?
Instead of trying to change others we can change ourselves
We can change our hearts
We have been sold lies
Brainwashed by our leaders and those we trust
To not recognize our brothers and sisters
And to exhibit anger, hatred and cruelty
But once we truly love we will meet anger with sympathy
Hatred with compassion, cruelty with kindness
Love is the most powerful weapon on the face of the Earth
Robert Kennedy once said that
Few will have the greatness to bend history
But each of us can work to change a small portion of events
And in the total of all those act
Will be written in the history of a generation
So yes, the world is coming to an end
And the path towards a new beginning starts within you


What are the issues he raises? Which one to you feel closer? How does he leave the listener? Dejected? Hopeful? How does he achieve his goal? How did you feel during his performance? What did you think? How did you feel at the end? How are you feeling now? Can he inspire you? How?


Choose a topic dear to you and go for it.