Need to inject some passion into your writing? Slam, baby.

Fellow NHWNer, Wendy Thomas, recently shared a video on Facebook that came as close to literally knocking me off my feet as any video I’ve ever watched. In three-and-a-half minutes, one woman – alone on a stage, with nothing but her own words to sway me – drew me through most of the major emotions including anger, outrage, grief, and hope. I cried, I laughed, I stood up and cheered.

The artist was a woman by the name of Kate Makkai and the venue was the 2002 National Poetry Slam. The piece she performed was called “Pretty.” Prior to watching this video, I had never experienced slam poetry and was only marginally aware of this dynamic art form. Slam is a kind of “street” poetry that taps into the raw stuff of life in a way that can be shocking. Slam poets do not pull punches. There isn’t an Emily Dickenson in the lot. Slam poets go for the jugular every time – telling it like it is in words that strip away pretense and pride.

As writers, our goal is to connect with our readers. We use our words to manipulate emotions, broaden perspectives, and inspire change. To succeed, we have to bring our writing to life. Words that lie on the page like a catch of cold, dead fish aren’t going to cut it. If you want to touch your reader’s heart, your words need to plug directly into the central artery system. They need to be the right words, delivered in the right way.

If your writing needs an infusion, I recommend taking a journey into the world of slam poetry. Start with Kate’s piece and then see where it leads you. I know I was inspired to dig deeper after watching her work. I hope you are, too.

Jamie Lee Wallace is a writer who, among other things, works as a marketing strategist and copywriter. She helps creative entrepreneurs (artists, writers, idea people, and creative consultants) discover their “natural” marketing groove so they can build their business with passion, story, and connection. She also blogs. A lot. She is a mom, a singer, and a dreamer who believes in small kindnesses, daily chocolate, and happy endings. Look her up on facebook or follow her on twitter. She doesn’t bite … usually.

133 thoughts on “Need to inject some passion into your writing? Slam, baby.

  1. Loved this! I’ve been to a few local poetry slams with mostly teenagers as participants. They are really something, and I agree that there’s a lot to be learned from the ways they manipulate words to portray intense feelings and emotions. It’s so much more than just “good,” “bad,” or “pretty.”

    Thanks for sharing~

  2. When I saw this video on facebook, I went through the same emotions as you did. I cried and laughed and after the video was finished..I sat in my chair and stared at the computer for a very long time…speechless. Her words impacted me in such a big way and I could feel her emotions as she was telling her story. We posted this video on our facebook fanpage for Our blog is to help provide inspiration to women of all shapes, sizes and ages. We want to promote healthy living and self love. Right now we are featuring a very inspirational woman named Mayra De Wilde who says “I am so much more than a number on a scale or a number on a size chart.” The women we feature on the blog share their life struggles, hardships and the lessons they have learned along the way to hopefully connect with our readers and provide some sort of inspiration as we travel through this journey of life. Thank you again for posting this video…I will forever remember how I felt after watching it!

  3. Wow that was something awesome. It left me thinking what all we put ourselves through most of the time. I often find myself humming that song from Chorus Line
    Yes everyone’s beautiful at the ballet
    graceful men lift pretty girls in white
    Yes everyone is beautiful at the ballet, the ballet, the ballet.

    and then some of the girls recount why they took ballet classes to escape their dreary lives
    I am not able to recollect the exact words but they are pretty telling
    ………yes pretty is what its about
    I never met anyone who couldn’t figure that out.

    I’m not able to remember the exact words right away
    but if you get a chance just hear the song its fab in fact the
    whole movie is great. It stars Michael Douglas.
    Oh….I was just going back up and I see there’s a whole bunch of you gals…….nice connecting. Its awesome to be
    living right now…..hey do buy my book for Christmas. You’ll
    love it.


    Thank You!!!!!!!!

    We’re so thrilled about being Freshly Pressed – what treat & a wonderful way to meet new friends. 🙂

    Thanks so much for coming by and sharing your thoughts and good will. Looking forward to exploring your bloggy spaces & connecting around the Web.

    Thanks again from all of us here at NHWN.

  5. Thanks for sharing that! Slam is a great example of passion-infused writing. The performance you chose was so good. Almost deserves it’s own post entirely. Looking forward to hearing more from you!

  6. Wow! This is amazing. I have a 14 year old daughter who is very intelligent and gifted. She was in her school’s fall production and made me so proud, yet she falls into the trap of “fitting in” with others. She never seemed to really fit in with any particular group. She always marched to her own beat, danced to her own music, and expressed herself in her own way, which I absolutely LOVE about her. The problem is at 14 years old, she is seen as different and weird by the other teenagers. I will play this for her, even with that one bad word. This is exactly what I wanted to say to her, but could never get it all out! Thank you!!!!

  7. I liked the video. She did a great job.

    The only downside was that she had to drop the F-bomb right in the middle of it. I understand her emotion, but wish she could have restrained herself in the use of profanity.

    Otherwise, great video, great point.

    – Jerry

  8. Okay, if we want to split hairs, “contained in five letters”, strictly speaking, wasn’t true. P-R-E-T-T-Y = 6 letters.

    To Jerry: I understand your feelings, but it was more or less a quote from the sleazy crowd at the bar, wasn’t it? Delivered the message with animal power.

    And back to business: Yes, if you can put words to work like this, there’s no stopping your success in writing.

  9. wow!! that is one hell of a delivery!!! spot on Katie Makkai and thank you Jamie for posting this video. wow!! brought tears to my eyes in remembrance of my daughters growing up years. the pressure of society to be ‘pretty’ to be accepted is hammered home every single day every time you walk past a magazine rack or switch on the TV. Bravo Katie. what a shame we as a civilised and educated society are unable to change the perception that beauty is necessary in order to get ahead in life.
    Congratulations on being ‘freshly pressed’

  10. I loved this. Needed it actually, as I’m in the midst of the NaNoWriMo exercise right now.

    Awesome stuff in this poem. And she delivered it all exactly perfect, “f” bomb and all.

    In a world where expletives are handed out like smokes or candy, this woman presented that one word with the exact precision and emotion that it called for.

    The real expletive in the whole poem wasn’t “fuck” anyway. It was the one word she identified as such.

    That word: pretty.

  11. I’ve seen poetry slams and actually have participated in them too. It definitely is very powerful stuff and to deliver a slam poem you have to bring the words alive, and, the place where I performed my poetry they were encouraged to boo poets off the stage if they weren’t good enough. Very intimidating, for sure.

  12. Blimey…I’m not even into poetry but that was bloody fantastic…powerful! Thanks for posting and congrats for making it on Freshly Pressed.

  13. Pingback: Need to inject some passion into your writing? Slam, baby. « Live to Write – Write to Live « Free Espresso Friday

  14. Can I say, HOLY SHIT? that was pretty amazing. pretty inspiring. pretty freakin real. thank you from my heart . . .


  15. Just about to go and watch this now. We had a poetry slam at our school a couple of years ago and last week we had a ‘street poet’ in school called Skittlz… Kids loved him but staff weren’t sure what to make of it! Anything that gets kids writing creatively is always good in my opinion. Emma

  16. WOW. I have tears in my eyes & the breast implants I was planning on NO LONGER MATTER BECAUSE THIS VIDEO HAS SPOKEN TO ME.
    thank you for posting. I did need an inspiration to write more & now I have an inspiration to fight more! to fight for me & not what “pretty” can, no, WILL NOT give me. This is amazing & thank you!

  17. I’ll admit, I’m pretty interested in the look of language, so necessity became the mother of invention (i don’t have my speakers installed) and I just looked at Katie Makkal do her thing. i am willing to grant up front that her performance is brillliant and full of emotional power. my responses:

    1) I don’t particularly like poetry slams; they seem to me a different kind of art than the one that has developed thanks to reading, lit rags, and the emphasis on the reader’s imagination. not that slams are trivial or a form of non-art, but they do seem to me to resemble the comic stand-up routine more than beowulf (once again, not necessarily a disadvantage). and i should note that ms. makkal is young, something that certainly helps in spoken performance. i however am 50, and there is something about the energy of any theatrical performance that borrows from crowd psychology: your identity, your subject matter, and your audience determine to a great degree your reception. This is an art of the moment (and need i add, the arts have done worse?)

    2) this is a drawn-out way of saying that i’ve seen very fine poets shouted down or voted into oblivion.

    3) as a data point from the other side of the gender wars, let me grant ms. makkal’s point up front: pretty is an animal-mind, power tripping, blatantly unfair and damaging construct from the nether regions of the male psyche.

    But, i think that most people would also grant that a woman’s body invests her with power, holiness, and, above all, attractiveness. We men need to move towards understanding that the power of a woman’s presence is a psychological reality, based not only in an automatic response to her shape but also in a far more intangible response to her *energy*. Shape doesn’t matter nearly as much as attraction, respect, and openness (this applies of course to both parties). What this means is:

    4) All women are beautiful. It is their genius to attract people (though certainly some effort from their partner might help things along).

    5) Men are also trapped by cultural constructs: we have to be strong, resilient, unemotional, and, above all, attracted to women in a blind, power-hungry way that says more about our insecurity than anything else. intellectuals, poets, and painters are welcome to take our case elsewhere. There is a real fear of independent thinking (not to mention feeling) in this country.

    6) i’ll end by reminding myself that all this comes without having heard a word of ms. makall’s. my apologies to her; she may have made all my points during her performance. But somehow, i’m inclined to think that she hasn’t. The written word allows authors to compose in a silence that can often reveal deeper thought and emotion than is possible, and reading to an audience from a page allows the performer to revisit his or her thoughts and perhaps correct them. this is much harder to do when reciting from memory. poetry is about direct, unmediated communication between the poet and her or his reader. i think that emily dickinson delivers as much force and power in her tiny epiphanies as any slammer does in a performance, however dynamic. in fact, i think she is the greatest poet america has produced so far. RT

  18. My daughter sent me this video, and I admit I felt pangs of guilt as I listened. I’ve never been over-concerned with beauty, or never thought I was….but then I thought about how many times I worried about my daughter’s complexion and how few my son’s, which is worse.

    This is fantastic.

  19. I saw this video last week and sent it to my daughters and my son. I had considered blogging about it, but you beat me to it. Thank you for posting this much needed message.

  20. It was like she had been sitting inside my head, collecting my thoughts…not all of them…but some of the ones that seem to be, at times, on a constant spin cycle. Thanks for sharing.

  21. Pingback: need-to-inject-some-passion-into-your-writing-slam-baby | Alex Schmidt's Blog

  22. Thanks for a great post — she had me in tears at the end. Slam poetry is very powerful when done well and she certainly knows how. I’m a lottle intimidated by the style, however, don’t know if I could infuse my writing with it. Worth trying, though.

  23. Pingback: Need to inject some passion into your writing? Slam, baby. (via Live to Write – Write to Live) « Homediscountshop's Blog

  24. : ) My bf is a member of the Dallas Poetry Slam team, and a good deal of my friends are slam poets. Slam is a beautiful, double-edged sword that never ceases to amaze me.

    to everyone who has been kind enough to not only swing by, but also to leave a comment. I was personally so touched by Makkai’s performance and am thrilled to have had the opportunity to share it with so many other people. The icing on the cake is how many of you have appreciated it as much as I did. Love that!
    I wish I was able to reply to each of your comments, but deadlines are hovering over my head like a little, black raincloud about to burst.

    I (and the rest of the NHWN team) SO appreciate your visiting – really & truly. Hope we’ll see you again soon.

  26. I’ve never watched slam poetry but am so glad I did — this was suprisingly powerful and touching. Really makes me examine the messages I send to my daughters. Thank you so much for sharing and I’m so glad you were Freshly Pressed today or I may have missed this!


  27. Yes, I like the sentiment of Makkai’s poem.
    But I am not a fan of all the baggage that ‘slam poetry’
    has seemed to gather.
    The ‘slam’ hand and arm movements have got to go.
    The ‘slam’ talking loud and fast have got to go.

    That was for a time, and that time has gone. I long for new and more real expressions of ‘passion’ than the formulaic patterns that have for some reason come into vogue.

    Arm Movement!

  28. In your “about me” blurb after your post (which rocks), you mention that you like everyday kindnesses…I’m actually blogging about doing just that if you’d ever have some spare time to take a look…it’d mean a lot, coming from an experienced blogger such as yourself!

  29. Thanks – that was really awesome. I’m so glad I saw your post. I consider my writing style intimate, blunt, and journalistic, but my subject matter guarded. I hesitate to “go there” because my readers are family and friends. I would love to bear my soul as Ms. Makkai did, and I believe I could do it well. I’ll just have to think about how to go about it.

  30. I actually started blogging as watching Slam Poetry videos on Youtube inspired me to start writing my thoughts down in the hope that one day I could write something just like Katie Makkai’s piece.

    One clip that you must check out is rafael casal – Barbie & Ken 101. It is similiar to the message that Katie is trying to get out.

    The passion that a lot of these poets have simply blows me away.

    Oh and finally my favourite Slam poet of all time is Anis Mojgani

  31. Pingback: Pretty « *DISENCHANTED*

  32. This is the first time I’ve heard of slam poetry (sorry), and I am so intrigued. This is maybe what I needed to watch all this time.

    🙂 Thanks! Have a nice day!

  33. Pingback: Nuggets from Wordpress « You, Me, and Everyone Else

  34. Oh man, that’s good. A powerful poem and a powerful performance. As a dad of two daughters, I thought that was eye-opening and insightful. I can have a powerful answer to my daughters if they ever ask “Will I be pretty?” Thanks for sharing this video and the thought behind your post of infusing passion into writing. My poetry is mostly silly stuff, but who knows where it’ll go from here. Thanks again, and best wishes on your writing.

  35. I’m sorry, but that was just too much.
    Screaming, ranting and carrying on.
    I hate that kind of delivery – angry, bitter, nasty.
    Carrying on like that. She should be grateful her mother had the money and did spend it on her teeth, nose and skin and no doubt on her education.
    Some girls don’t ever have those opportunities.
    Most girls wouldn’t have the confidence to stand up there like that, because they genuinely are insecure about their looks.
    She does not inspire me at all with my words, with her ugly, angry words.
    I can see from all the comments that she obviously does connect with many people using these words. I say that is because of the sad state of the world in general; that a woman who rants and raves angrily and negatively can somehow enthrall so many; inspire so many.
    Personally, people like that just suck the life out of me.
    Thanks for sharing this, anyway. I’m obviously in the minority, but I hope you don’t mind me voicing my opinion too.
    By the way, my teeth are bucked (because I sucked my thumb), my nose is extremely crooked (because it was broken when I was 14), my ears stick out (because my mum didn’t make sure they were flat when she laid me down as a baby) but I do have amazing skin for a 45 year old!!!!
    Lots of people say I’m pretty and that means the world to me because I already know I am intelligent, creative and amazing!

    • I’m with you–I am a poet and feel like I’ll never make it in the poetry slam world (I admit I’ve been asked to try) because I’m just not angry enough! I’m a hopeful poet. Yes a few of us still exist. 😉 Check out my poems in my archives of my blog?

  36. Yawn.

    “Slam Poetry” or “Def Poetry” or whatever cool, hip, urban name it’s given this week has been around for decades. Only it hasn’t been labeled poetry until the 90’s.

    This is no more amazing or interesting than any of the thousands of monologues in plays and memoirs and essays that express the same plethora of emotions.

    You want to be amazed or inspired? Check out some of “slam poetry” (sic) written by African-Americans in the 50’s and 60’s, or by women in 20’s and 30’s, or by even by American Indians in the 1800’s.

    Get a frame of reference larger than a pinhead before you all start spewing how incredible something is.

  37. Makkai’s performance is awesome, and slam’s a wonderful new form of poetry for me. But I appreciate your words as well…
    “Words that lie on the page like a catch of cold, dead fish aren’t going to cut it. If you want to touch your reader’s heart, your words need to plug directly into the central artery system”.

    • Thanks, Naeem. I’m glad those words reached you & glad you enjoyed Makkai’s performance. Happy writing!

  38. Pingback: Where do people get their inspiration? | Kadyrova's Blog

  39. Pingback: Need to inject some passion into your writing? Slam, baby. (via Live to Write – Write to Live) « … but I digress

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  41. I love Spoken Word. Yes it is filled with passion and I think writers can learn from the passion they use and their straightforward approach. Yes! I’m glad your digging deeper, that’s where you find the best bits of inspiration! 🙂

  42. Thank you for sharing this with us, Jamie. Truly reminding of what really matters. Couldn’t help but share it immediately with my lady love to reaffirm that she is so much more than what the world so often dictates.

    Very powerful and definitely an art worth more research.

  43. Pingback: Socially Incorrect… « Nocturne Adagio

  44. Our recollections are a wee bit different actually. Yes, her nose had been broken by an errant Frisbie when Kate was 3. The only facial work Miss Kate had was to repair a deviated septum because she had continuous infections and couldn’t breathe out of her nose, poor thing. The cost of her newly functioning nose was $2500, not $10K, oh my. As to the teeth and ointments et al, they were addressed as per her own request. But, give the woman credit; she can lay down stunning poetry, yes?!

  45. Pingback: Weekend Edition – Storyteller vs. Writer plus Good Reads and Writing Tips | Live to Write – Write to Live

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