Award-winning slam poet and teaching artist Sophia Walker gives advice on how to become a better writer.
How I got started
Several years ago, I was stuck with no work and fast-dwindling grocery money. One night, watching old episodes of a spoken word TV series with friends, I said, after one admittedly terrible poem had aired, 'I could do better than that in less than ten minutes.' My mates were tired of such arrogance, and handed me a pen and paper. The result took longer than ten minutes, but it wasn’t awful. One friend told me that the next night in a neighbouring town, there was a poetry competition, something called a slam, with a cash prize. Desperate for food money, I entered. Somehow, I won. I must be one of the few people who ever entered spoken word for the money.
What spoken word is
I’m now lucky enough to earn my living through touring the world performing my poems, my three spoken word theatre shows, and writing commissions. Spoken word, performance poetry, and slam poetry are slightly different things, depending on who you’re asking, but they all have the same goal. We stand on a stage and hope to make you feel something: laughter, anger, sadness, or the desire to leap into action. Spoken word is an exchange between writer and listener. We move you, you move us back, and together everyone leaves feeling different, fired up.
You have to earn people's attention
The true force of spoken word is that it is the only genre where anyone at all can say what they want to an audience of strangers and be listened to in silence. You don't need to be a professional; anyone can speak at an open mic night. Singer-songwriters get talked over and comedians get heckled, but spoken word poets experience the extreme privilege of being given the space to be truly heard.