How to Write a Performance Poem
From the cultural expression of Langston Hughes to the Beat Poets of the 1950s to modern rap and hip hop music, performance poetry remains a popular genre today. As the name suggests, performance poems are meant to be spoken aloud with expression and movement that reflect their meaning. Combining poetry's unique use of language with vocal expression, movement and physical gestures can help you create a memorable performance poem that showcases your interests and personality.
Finding Your Material
Performance poetry is characterized by raw, expressive emotion. Sometimes it deals with controversial topics like political discontent or injustice; other times it showcases a particular feeling or experience in the poet's life. Choosing something you're passionate about will help you translate your feelings into poetic language. You could think of a time someone made you angry, a current issue that upsets you or an emotional moment in your life, but performance poems don't have to be negative or weighty in tone. For example, you could also write about a sport you enjoy, a favorite music group or a pet.
Most writers are familiar with using rhyme in poetry, but there are other devices that can make your performance poem pleasurable to hear. Alliteration is the repetition of beginning consonant sounds of words, such as in "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers," that speeds up language. By contrast, assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds that can slow a poem down, such as the title of Pablo Neruda's "Ode to Tomatoes." Similarly, repetition can also add meaning or emphasize an idea. In Raymond Carver's poem "Fear," each line begins with the word "fear," which illuminates a variety of meanings the word can hold.
Staging Your Poem
Finding a unique way to perform your original poem will bring it to life for audiences. One way to do this is to practice reading the poem with expression, listening for places to change the inflection or tone, of your voice. The Wootton Bassett Arts Festival recommends looking for places to emphasize key words or create drama through pauses. You can also block your poem, a theater term for planning out physical movement. Carefully placed gestures, facial expressions and even movement from one part of a stage to the other can lend animation to the piece.
While many poets memorize their work, directly reading it is also acceptable, especially if you are nervous. Practice, however, is what will ultimately make you feel confident about your performance. Paying special attention to the speed and volume of your voice will ensure that you are speaking in a clear and evenly paced manner. Speaking too loudly or softly may keep audiences from receiving your poem's message. Ultimately, performance poetry is a chance to have fun showcasing your writing to an audience in a way that is unique to you.
Kori Morgan holds a Bachelor of Arts in professional writing and a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing and has been crafting online and print educational materials since 2006. She taught creative writing and composition at West Virginia University and the University of Akron and her fiction, poetry and essays have appeared in numerous literary journals.