[Tips] Poetry Slam 101

Six Basic Tips by Richard ‘Quaz’ Roodt

A few weeks ago we asked one of SA’s most notorious slam poets – Quaz – if he would be interested to write a series of columns for us in which we explore the art of SLAM, for practitioners.

The idea for the column is to advise those new to SLAM on the best approach and the common pitfalls and also to help established SLAM practitioners to improve their skill-set and hopefully their performance in SLAMS.

His immediate reaction was in the affirmative and we decided that the series will work towards preparing WNS Poetry League participants who make it to the finals of the SLAM at the Word n Sound International Youth Poetry and Live Music Festival in October this year.


1. You are a writer first

Remember the writing process is the art . That’s when you are confronted with your demons and emotions. That’s where you develop your own techniques and build or destroy the ideas your filthy mind has been harbouring. That’s where you run away or towards yourself. That’s where you draft your gospel. The performance is just the final package. Don’t forget that. You are a writer first.

2. Study don’t imitate

Find people that inspire you. Why do they inspire you? Study their work. Watch videos of theirs and other slams. What made the winners stand out. Find inspiration. BUT, DO NOT COPY OR IMITATE. Don’t. That’s just plain boring. And we no like boring Jahjah. Asseblief toe. Dankie. Don’t try to write or sound  like those you admire. Rather, make them want to write like you. We do not want to see all the YouTube videos you’ve googled through your performance. Find your own voice. Have confidence in your ability to be great as yourself.

3. Respect your craft and its audience.

Prof Keorapetse Willie Kgositsile once said ‘How can I call myself a poet, when there were people like Lorca or Neruda?’ Our poet laureate said that people. So who are you to come here and force us to call you a poet huh? Are you engaging with poetry beyond the superficial “Ooh me I am a poet” rhetoric? Are you studying those before us? Are you reading their work? Are you reading? Do you know why you write?If you do not know why, that is okay too. As long as you know that you do not know. Or do you just dabble in writing performance poems hoping to win a slam and be accepted as one of the cool bunch?

It is enticing, I know but are you mindful of your craft?Are you consciously adding to our national literary canon or are you here for the nice, warm, fuzzy, albeit fleeting, applause?

In the immortal words of the great Ice Cube “check yourself before you wreck yourself”.

Study your topics, respect your time on stage, respect the poetry that you write and that was written before you.

Remember the audience often plays a big role in determining the outcome of a slam.

Audiences respond to punchlines,quirky and/or passionate performances. Respect them, they are on your side.I’m almost 100% certain the folks sitting in the audience wont eat you. Well at least not right there and then.They came to hear good poetry. Don’t ever undermine their intelligence. They trust you to take them on a journey, so don’t come unprepared. Rehearse your presentation.

4. Slow Down Bone thugs, slow down.

For some weird reason poets assume loud and fast is the way to go. You know that moment when the poem switches to autopilot and starts delivering itself. The poet stands there feeding us line after line, accompanied by loud gasps ,spittle projectiles and zoned out glazed over eyes. Looks like you’re gonna pop an eyeball. Calm down, breathe, let the poem breathe. Find the silent moments. Tell us, don’t yell it at us.

Don’t become a robot, present but totally disconnected from the moment and the audience. You are not a TV just standing there spewing out (dis)information. You are alive,your body is dynamic. Act accordingly.

Find the silent moments and pauses in your poem. Take us there.Have faith in your words.

5. Get to the point bro bro,

Some poets have mastered the art of not getting to the point. Don’t be that guy. Describing an idea or an emotion in the shortest way possible is much better than your month long redundant monologue. And we wont die of boredom either. So ,easy there Homer.

6. Relax and Enjoy yourself.

This is pretty self explanatory. If you cant , we wont, it is as simple as that.

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