Take the Mic: the Art of Performance Poetry, Slam, and the Spoken Word, by Marc Kelly Smith & Joe Kraynak

My Copy: 9781402218996 (Image from amazon.com)

I discovered slam poetry a few months ago and was blown away by the emotion in what I was seeing for most poems. Some were great, some not so much, some amazing–but they all had something to bring to the table. I wanted to learn how to write like that, with great expression and emotion. Granted, the performances enunciate that, but you need good writing to set the standard, otherwise it’ll suck.

Take the Mic is a fantastic book about performance and speech by one of the founders of what’s come to be called “slam poetry” in the 1980s, from its odd start in Chicago and in the decades since has crossed international boundaries. I think this is a great guide to learning what exactly slam poetry is, what it isn’t, the basic rules for a slam, and how to make oneself an effective slam poet.

I dunno if I’d ever get up on stage, but I did get lots of great ideas on how to loosen up and let feelings flow, work with my words and rhythm to have them say what I want. Granted, my copy is from 2009, so some names won’t be so familiar to those who YouTube search videos of slam poetry (unless you’re willing to go deep), but there are many words and even snippets of poems by slam champions to elaborate on Smith’s points.

I think this is a good reference not just for those who would like to be on stage, but people who need to get a leg-up on public speaking in general. I haven’t heard of the exercises within that get you to focus, relax, limber up and burn off nervous energy before a performance, ways to open your mind and voice up during rehearsals, voice training for rapid and slow speech. Sometimes what’s in our head doesn’t quite come out right on the tongue (ugh, I suffer from this SO much), but with attention and training–even if it’s talking to yourself–why not give it a shot?

If you’re looking for a “how to write poetry” guide, this is not the book for you. As the authors say, there are hundreds of others out there that will be more helpful. But there is some dedication to the basics, what they’re called and how they translate in the slamosphere (so to speak).

Worth a shot if you wanna get it–I was curious where it all came from, and am glad I read it. Now I’m encouraged to write more (even if I currently stink, because we all have to start from somewhere).

4 thoughts on “Take the Mic: the Art of Performance Poetry, Slam, and the Spoken Word, by Marc Kelly Smith & Joe Kraynak

  1. Jess Sharon says:

    I have not read the book yet but am considering it.

    I have a follow-up question regarding your assertion that, “If you’re looking for a “how to write poetry” guide, this is not the book for you”. Do you mean written poetry specifically or performance poetry as well?

    I happen to be doing some research on the writing of, features and other components of performing poetry- its cadence and meter and how to effectively mimic content discussed and such- and am curious if this book would shed some light?


    • TheChattyIntrovert says:

      Definitely not for the written poetry aspect. Has some good basics on performance poetry and telling a narrative to a live audience. Whole chapter dedicated to that at least (“Penning a powerful slam poem”).


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