How to Write Spoken Poetry

How to Write Spoken Poetry – An Easy Guide for Beginners

When many people think of poetry, they think of texts in stuffy books that are forced on you in school, but that is hardly the case with most poetry, and even less the case with spoken word poetry. However, if you are here looking for help with how to write spoken poetry, then you probably already know that. The purpose of this discussion today will be to explore a number of different elements of spoken word poetry. There is a lot to learn when it comes to spoken word poetry, and so I will go over some of the characteristics, performance elements, and examples of spoken word poetry to help you along. If you are happy to receive some help, then this is where you should be!



How to Write Spoken Poetry

So, what is spoken poetry? This will be the primary focus for us over the course of this article. In very basic terms, spoken word poetry refers to any kind of poetry that is created with an eye toward performance. Additionally, we’ll examine how we might learn how to write spoken poetry. Before we get into the weeds here, let’s first dive into a summary that can help set the scene.

What Is Spoken Poetry Xoán Abeleira Reciting Spoken Word (2017); Xoan AbeleiraCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons



How to Write Spoken Poetry Summary Points

Summaries, summaries, where would we be without summaries? They help us on our way and they can also feel like a cheat sheet. Below, I will be going over some of the major pointers that will aid in answering the very general question: “What is spoken poetry?”.

To learn how to write spoken poetry, read this summary and then keep on reading:

  • Spoken poetry is designed with a performance angle. The primary idea behind spoken word poetry is that it is constructed around a planned performance. If something is spoken word, then it will inherently lose something if it is only confined to a page.
  • Spoken poetry ignores written elements of poetry. While written poetry does descend from other forms of written poetry, it stands against the kind of poetry that is designed for the page. This means that things like unusual typography are entirely absent from spoken word because they become unnecessary.
  • Spoken poetry is related to music. Much of the oldest poetry was initially set to music, but that has become far less common over the last few centuries. The spoken word poetry movement has changed that since the 20th century, and there has been a resurgence in music and spoken word operating together.

This summary is hardly a particularly lengthy thing, but it should have given a good overview of the things to come. However, there is a lot more to come. So, if this has only been a taster for you, head on to the next section and learn some more about the spoken poetry format.



The Characteristics of Spoken Poetry

The primary aspect of spoken word poetry that you’ll need to keep in mind if you too wish to learn how to write spoken poetry, is that it is spoken. This may seem a very obvious statement, but it is actually something that you’ll really need to keep in mind. You see, when writing poetry that is not intended for performance, there are all sorts of visual things that you can do with poetry, and all of this goes out the window when it comes to performance. Why? Well, the answer is that no one is going to see the text from which you are reciting. If you are going to both write and perform spoken word, you’ll need to use your body rather than a piece of paper.

That piece of paper, in terms of ordinary poetry writing, could include all manner of visual components, such as the use of strange typography, which will give your written poem a highly visual presentation. However, if you were to shape your poem like a heart, for instance, how is someone supposed to see that when you are reading it aloud? There’s no way they could possibly see it, right? So, what are the characteristics of the spoken poetry format you should consider if you want to learn how to write spoken poetry too?

Spoken Poetry Format Spoken Word Poetry at the Joburg-Berlin Word’n Music Festival (2015); Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung from Berlin, DeutschlandCC BY-SA 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Well, some of the primary things to remember is that performance is central to spoken word poetry. This means that you’ll have to learn how to use your voice and body in the performance. You need to project and speak with confidence. However, this also often means that the rhythm, flow, and rhyme of a spoken word poem comes to have central importance. It needs to sound good to the ears. It cannot look good, because no one can see the thing, can they?

Some of the major elements that you may use to ensure this in the writing phase are the use of literary techniques such as alliteration, hyperbole, and rhyme. These are not necessary to learning how to write spoken poetry though, because not all spoken word poems make use of these kinds of ideas. Instead, you can also focus on the content of the poem itself. This becomes important because the topic you have chosen, and the way that you deliver it, can make any kind of text appear powerful.

This is why many texts in the spoken word format make use of highly personal stories and thoughts or a highly political piece of social commentary.

Many spoken word poems discuss something that is really happening in the world, and this allows them to relate to those in the audience who may have gone through something similar, but it can also be a way of showing those who have never experienced such a thing that there are experiences in the world that they can never experience for some or another reason, such as the experiences of one race, gender, religious groups, and so on, because those who are not in that group cannot have those exact same experiences.

Now, before we get into the next aspect of the spoken word format, we should just lastly discuss one final part of many spoken word poems, and that is the idea of the power line. This is some kind of a particularly powerful line in a spoken word poem that leaves the audience with a harsh punch. This is also why these particular lines are often the final line in a poem. This is where the audience is hit with some idea that is intended to resonate with them in some way.



The Performance Aspect of Spoken Poetry

A central component of spoken word poetry is the performance of said poetry. It is in the name after all. It’s the whole “spoken word” part of it. This means that if you want to learn how to write spoken poetry, you can’t just learn how to write it, you also need to learn how to perform it. The use of performance means that you, firstly, should work on any kind of shyness you may have in front of a crowd. A proper spoken word poem will generally be in front of an audience, and you can’t go getting shy!

Other aspects of a performance entail your specific means of delivery. You need to be able to speak emotionally rather than in a monotone (unless that’s part of the poem, of course). However, speaking with gusto and energy rather than dryness will help you to convey the meaning of your poem to the audience.

This is why recitation can also often help. When you are instead reading off a piece of paper, you are inherently constrained by the need to consult said piece of paper. You will need to keep looking at it, but if you can instead learn to recite a poem by heart, you will be able to better use your body in the performance itself. For instance, if you can focus on your body instead of a piece of paper, you will better be able to use your facial expression, where you look in the audience, how your body moves, and where you move on the stage.

Example of Spoken Poetry Megborna Performing at The Megborna Concert (2019); ReadersDelightGhanaCC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

We have already discussed the kind of topics that can be explored in spoken word poetry, but when learning how to write spoken poetry, it is often best to also learn what kinds of topics will resonate with audiences. Knowing that this is a performance, and that people will be watching you, can help when you need to choose the kind of ideas to explore. For instance, performing a poem about deeply personal topics in which you can show your emotion will better allow the audience to feel that emotion too. This is especially true when the topic you are exploring in a performance is uncomfortable.

When we are discussing our personal experiences that hurt us, people tend to listen. They may not be able to directly relate, but they certainly can understand through the words that you choose to use. They will feel what you present to them, and if it is painful, they will remain silent to hear that pain. This does not mean that all instances of poems in the spoken poetry format are necessarily examples of texts that exploit tragedy and personal horrors, but those kinds of topics are often the ones that do end up being explored because they are things that many never hear. In our ordinary lives, we do not often discuss the truly horrible things that have happened to us. It is not part of polite conversation to talk about abuses that you may have suffered.

However, in a spoken word poetry context, this kind of honesty and rawness is often rewarded. If you show your true self, people will listen.  So, when writing spoken word poetry, don’t be afraid to tap into parts of your life that you may usually remain quiet about, because those parts can be cathartic for you to perform and powerful for others to see performed.



The Relationship Between Spoken Poetry and Music

The earliest forms of poetry were part of the oral tradition, and they were often set to music of some kind. Many poems throughout the ages have, in some way or another, been integrated into music. For instance, the history of ballads is intrinsically tied with musical composition and performance, and so, in many ways, the emergence of spoken word poetry recreates an aspect of poetry that has been somewhat lost. We don’t tend to see poetry as something performance-oriented any longer, but spoken word shows that this is not the case. Furthermore, certain genres can be seen as highly influenced by spoken word style work, such as rap.

This is just one way in which we can see that spoken word and music have aspects in common with one another, and many spoken word poems are also set to some kind of music to maintain a certain beat and rhythm.



Spoken Poetry Examples

I have taught many poems over the years, and I have also taught how poems work and how to compose them. However, the best way to learn is to find a good instance of the form you wish to learn about and study it. That is the purpose of the section below. I will be having a look at each example of spoken poetry below to interrogate what makes it great as a piece of spoken word poetry, and through that, you may gain a better understanding of how to write spoken poetry. However, you should analyze these and other spoken word poems far more closely than I will do so today.

How to Write Spoken Poetry Airmen celebrate Black History Month through spoken word (2014); Senior Airman George Goslin, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons


Shake the Dust (2007) by Anis Mojgani

Date Published2007
Type of PoemSpoken word poem
Rhyme SchemeNone
TopicResilience and empowerment

Shake the Dust is a great spoken word poem for understanding how it makes use of certain techniques. In this case, there is the heavy use of repetition. The title of the poem is stated over and over again after other statements are made. This use of repetition allows the audience to remember that one line and the meaning that has been loaded into it because of how often it has been repeated.

The poem’s exploration of human experience and resilience certainly adds to the tone of the repetition, and this is something to be kept in mind when learning how to write spoken poetry.


Notes on Rejection (2008) by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz

Date Published2008
Type of PoemSpoken word poem
Rhyme SchemeNone

Notes on Rejection is a potent poem about suffering rejection over and over again. It is a poem that shows us something very interesting that can be done with poetry. The poet has received multiple rejection letters before from attempts to publish her work, and so her poem is an amalgamation of all the things that she had been told in these letters. This shows someone who wants to learn more about how to write spoken poetry that you can take aspects of your own life and base a poem on that. You will also likely have an easier time conveying the deep emotions that you feel if you do something like this too.

When something happened to you directly, you are more likely to be able to know how you felt during a performance.


If I Should Have a Daughter (2011) by Sarah Kay

Date Published2011
Type of PoemSpoken word poem
Rhyme SchemeNone

If I Should Have a Daughter is a rather lengthy poem that conveys a narrative. This narrative is about motherhood, but also about metamorphosis, or change. We all change over the course of our lives, and this poem is a great way to show you if you want to write spoken word poetry, that an autobiographical discussion about your life is a very valid thing to want to do. We have our own, individual lives, and while there certainly are points of similarity, there are also many highly unique aspects of each of our lives.

None of us live the exact same life or have the exact same experiences and conveying that can be a potent thing to do in a performance.


Hair (2014) by Elizabeth Acevedo

Date Published2014
Type of PoemSpoken word poem
Rhyme SchemeNone

Hair is a poem about hair. In more specific terms, it is a poem about Black and Hispanic hair. The poem explores the way in which those who grow up in countries in which there is a white majority, the appearance of non-white hair becomes a point of concern. In this poem, she discusses the way in which her own family wanted her to “correct” her hair because her natural hair is not a good thing for the world she lives in. The poem allows her to speak out against that very concept, and to instead have pride in her hair and the societal pressures that have been against her because of it.

When learning how to write spoken poetry, this is the kind of personal and societal issue that can resonate strongly.


Pocket-Sized Feminism (2016) by Blythe Baird

Date Published2016
Type of PoemSpoken word poem
Rhyme SchemeNone
TopicGender issues

Pocket-Sized Feminism is a deeply personal poem that will likely resonate with many women. It explores the dark side of feminine experiences, such as sexual assault and sexism, and it discusses the ways in which there is a difficult dichotomy between wanting to speak out and wanted to be liked. This is a feminist text that can help those who also wish to write feminist performances in the spoken word tradition. The raw emotion in the performance makes this a phenomenal example of spoken word for anyone wanting to learn.


If you have an interest in spoken poetry, then hopefully this article has been beneficial to you. However, even though we have gone over some of the characteristics of the spoken word format, how it relates to performance and music, and an example of spoken poetry or two, the only real way to really learn how to write spoken poetry is to get to your desk, bed, or whatever other place you like to sit and write and get to writing. Then you need to perform for yourself. Get used to reciting these things you have written and learn how to put yourself into it. With enough practice, you’ll only get better and better!




Frequently Asked Questions


What Is Spoken Poetry?

Spoken word poetry is simply a variety of poetry that is oriented around performance. While poems have traditionally been performed and even set to music, the general consumption of poetry has shifted over the last few centuries. Nowadays, people tend to just sit and read poetry, or attend readings. Spoken word, on the other hand, allows for a poet to incorporate elements of performance into their readings and recitation of poetry, and this often means that vocal elements are favored over visual ones in spoken word poetry.


What Are the Characteristics of Spoken Poetry?

The thing to keep in mind when it comes to spoken word poetry is that it is not written down. It certainly could be read on a page, but the point of it being spoken aloud is for it to be heard and seen. This is why the spoken poetry format is generally geared toward the use of elements that have distinct sounds, such as rhyme and rhythm, while also making use of emotionality in the delivery of the poem, the use of imagery, and an often-confrontational nature. These poems are also usually personal and/or focus on societal issues that need to be faced.


How Important Is the Performance Aspect of Spoken Poetry?

When we look at spoken word poetry, we have to see it through the lens of performance. We could read a spoken word poem, but that will not be the intention of how it should be consumed. Your general example of spoken poetry will have elements specifically tailored to the performance angle of the piece. For instance, you want to see the gestures of the poet, hear the way that they are filling their words with emotion, and experience the energy of the crowd. Performance is integral to spoken word poetry.


What Is the Relationship Between Music and Spoken Poetry?

In the oldest days of poetry, it was generally all set to music. However, the performance element of poetry has always been present. There has been a shift in the last few centuries toward seeing poetry as something purely read on a page, but in terms of world history, that is a relatively recent phenomenon. The oral tradition goes back far further than anything that has ever been written, and contemporary spoken word poetry has maintained that performance angle. There are even performances that make direct use of music within them.


What Are Some Spoken Poetry Examples?

Spoken word poetry has existed for a long time, but the more contemporary understanding of the term is one that originated in the 20th century. Some great examples of spoken poetry have arisen in the last few years, such as Shake the Dust (2007) by Anis Mojgani, Notes on Rejection (2008) by Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, and Pocket-Sized Feminism (2016) by Blythe Baird. There are many more instances of spoken word poetry out there, but this is a good starting point.


Cite this Article

Justin, van Huyssteen, “How to Write Spoken Poetry – An Easy Guide for Beginners.” Art in Context. February 26, 2024. URL:

van Huyssteen, J. (2024, 26 February). How to Write Spoken Poetry – An Easy Guide for Beginners. Art in Context.

van Huyssteen, Justin. “How to Write Spoken Poetry – An Easy Guide for Beginners.” Art in Context, February 26, 2024.

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