A page from the "Poetry through the Ages" exhibit...

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Start with prose.

While percussion, repetition, and rhyme are three of the primary qualities of spoken word poetry, the perspective, emotion, or idea you want to provoke your reader with is of initial importance. For your first foray into performance poetry, find a piece of prose that you find alluring, whether an opinion article, a blog post, or micro story.

Bring the beat.

Before you work with your sample, review the examples of performance provided here, or complete a web search for an even broader sampling of styles. Then, try reading your selected piece of prose aloud, at first as you normally would. After doing so, re-read the piece aloud to yourself several more times, altering your style of reading to mimic the examples of reading styles you viewed in this exhibit. Try hesitating during certain sentences, speed up when you think the ideas should flow, and pause before interesting or important moments.

Once you find a style of reading that best suits you and the piece you’re working with, revise the language in the piece by searching for key places to rhyme to emphasize the sound structure of your piece. Don’t just rely on the style of your act of reading; instead, your language itself should also keep the listener’s attention. And while your poem is meant to be performed in front of an audience, utilize line breaks to remind you when to hesitate, pause, and flow.

To finish your piece, create a sentence or phrase you can use as a refrain, and sprinkle this refrain throughout the poem as frequently as you feel necessary. This will serve as an anchor for your audience to latch onto throughout the reading.

Refine your focus.

With a completed poem to read aloud, focus on the other elements that make an effective performance, namely your presence and gestures on stage. Again, review how other performance poets present their material, but don’t focus on how the words move out of the poet’s mouth. Look at how the poet sits or stands, how the poet gestures with his or her arms and hands, and how the poet incorporates his or her entire body into the performance.

For your own poem, choose sentences or phrases, and then stand in front of a mirror and experiment moving your body while you read your work aloud. Think of yourself as a choreographer, matching particular phrases with appropriate actions. Once you have developed your presentation style for this particular poem, check out the local slam poetry scene, as you’ll need a venue to show off your work.