Spoken word is written on a page but performed for an audience. It relies on a heavy use of rhythm, improvisation, rhymes, word play, and slang.
Spoken Word is writing that is meant to be read out loud. Some examples of spoken word you might be familiar with are stories, poems, monologues, slam poetry, rap and even stand-up comedy. When writing a spoken word piece use words and phrases that project onto the minds of the listeners like vivid images, sounds, actions and other sensations. If your poem is rich with imagery, your listeners will see, smell, feel and maybe even taste what you’re telling them.
I was first introduced to spoken-word by a friend during my stay in Owerri, the capital city of Imo State, Nigeria. I fell in love with it, so I looked up any spoken word pieces on Youtube. One of the first people I have ever listened to was Dylema, Rhetorics, Hosanna Poetry and couple Nigerian spoken word artistes like Graciano, Paul Word and Samurai. They’ve been favorite poets til this day. I know a lot of people out there aren’t familiar with spoken word though they aspire to be spoken word artistes in the nearest future, so I thought I’d write out 11 steps on how to write a spoken word piece.
1. Brainstorm About Something You’re Passionate About (& List Them)
Think of topics that you know about really well such as religion, feminism, stuff about the modern world, technology, or make it personal—your fears, anxiety, things you love, your life story, a letter to your country, etc. If you think of a word, you can work around that word to create it.
For example, I have written about regret, but I have been successful with it. The same advice goes for articles, but it’s in a more poetic, free form style.
2. Pick Your Top Three Favorites
Your first three could be (and in no particular order) ‘An Ode To Rain’, ‘A Letter From An Aborted Child’, or ‘Haunted By My Past’. You can write all three and see which one you can talk about a lot. Usually, the one you know about a lot and can write about for a long time without having a brain ‘damage’ is a sign that the piece is worth the effort.
3. Write, Write and Write
Before writing into the spoken word form, I would write everything you love, know, agree and disagree with that certain topic. Write everything in a journal, of connecting thoughts. With thoughts, it’s like dots, because one dot connects the others, which stretches into lines, and so on, until you have a chain of words.
For example, for ‘An Ode To Rain’, I would write about how I love the aroma of first rain on dust, thunderclaps, light flashes, flooded roads, and kids dancing in the rain. Plus, you have an excuse to moan ‘weather for two’ and cuddle up in a blanket.
4. Pick The Topic (but don’t stick to it: be flexible)
Let’s just say I chose to do the ‘Haunted By My Past’. It was my best choice, so I stick to that decision. If you end up writing a lot, and you realize that you don’t like the topic anymore, discard it and opt for something else. All the writing is in your hands, as the writer. Be flexible.
5. Write Your First Draft
I’d take scattered thoughts from my journal and rephrase them in the beginning of the poem. I can start with
“I am standing by my window/
watching the sun hurry into the dark/
to hide her every blazing face in a mask of clouds/…”
Even if you think the words come out terrible, it’s your first draft of it, and you can always revise it. Rewrite it however you can. Be creative.
6. Read It Out Loud
I’m of the opinion that spoken word is a rant, sometimes though. When you read your piece out loud, you should hear the mistakes or the parts where it doesn’t flow and it sounds really weird.
You (sometimes) get a flash of ideas when you read it out loud to yourself. And when that happens, a light goes off in your head and you leap into your diary rewriting the written.
7. Edit, Peer Edit, and Edit
For the first spoken word I wrote, titled ‘Haunted By My Past’, I had at least 3 to 5 different drafts because I was either not satisfied with the final draft, or I found new ways to make it flow a lot better. Don’t be an island writer. Have your mentors, friends, and family look at it and ask them what they think.
Two heads, they say, are better than one. A second set of eyes could help a lot. Read it out loud to your friends, family or mentor. They will help spot out wack lines for proper delivery
8. Research Different Styles Of Spoken Word
There’s a ton of authors that are spoken-word poets: Dylema, Chukwumerije, Watsky, Hezekiah, Kevin Coval, Priston Perry, Graciano, Phil Kaye, Paul Word, Guante, and so much more. Different artists and different styles could inspire your next line or even the title of your piece.
Youtube channels that I recommend: Hosanna Poetry, Rhetorics, and Youth Speaks.
9. Develop Your Style
Don’t get lost in the crowd or disappear in the shadows of your spoken word idol. Be yourself.
Choose how you want to present this poem that has a subject your passionate about to the audience. That’s the way you could solidify your confidence when you perform it (if you ever do, spoken word is meant to be performed) This is what I mean by ‘style’.
Create your style and stick to it. Don’t sound like Saraj Kay today and then you are Priston the next.
10. Finalize Everything
Read your piece out loud again, make sure everything flows, and most importantly, make sure you’re really satisfied with it.
Perform it for a family member or a friend. Let them know you want them to tell you what you could improve on anything from the performance to the poem itself.
11. Have Fun and Perform
After you’ve finalized everything, and you know how you want to perform it, have fun with it. You’ve finished everything for the piece and you can still edit it here and there if you discover more impurities. Spoken word is really fun and it’s a chance to put your voice out there about something your passionate about.
I haven’t performed a spoken word piece in a while, but it’s because I haven’t found time to do the above listed steps. But when I do think of things to write about, it’s usually at night, powered by late night thoughts, toilet muse, and music. But in all, I love spoken word poetry and I think everyone should learn how to write at least one.
Have you listened to my first spoken word poem? It’s Titled ‘March!’
Jaachị Anyatọnwụ is a poet, editor, and publisher living in the suburbs of Aba. He is the author of numerous poetry chapbooks and collections, and the Editor-In-Chief of Poemify Publishers Inc. Jaachị is passionate about discovering new voices and mentoring emerging poets. He is also a fierce advocate for the boy child and sexually molested.