Joe has curated this amazing list of spoken word and slam poems to get your class started! He also wrote a post about organizing a slam at your school here.
1) What is Spoken Word?
Spoken Word is poetry intended for onstage performance, rather than exclusively designed for the page. While often associated with hip-hop culture, it also has strong ties to storytelling, modern poetry, post-modern performance, and monologue theater, as well as jazz, blues, and folk music.
2) What is Slam Poetry?
Slam Poetry is poetry performed at a competition at which poets read or recite original work. These performances are then judged on a numeric scale by previously selected members of the audience.
3) Additional Information:
Slam poetry/spoken word often deals with controversial topics/issues. We all have different perspectives on these topics/issues, so please understand that while watching example videos, you should keep in mind that this genre is a medium for people to have their voices heard. That being said, I would like you to consider the performances in terms of the genre (Was the poet able to get a point across through the poem? Did the poet make the audience think? Was the poem recited in an effective way? etc.).
|Author||Title / Link||Topic||Type|
|Sarah Kay||Hands (performance at Apollo)
Hands (video with images)
|Relationship with father||Def Poetry Jam (solo)|
|Sarah Kay||The Type
|The type of woman you are — advice/inspiration/ empowerment||Urbana Poetry Club (2013)
Button Poetry (2015)
|Sarah Kay||If I Should Have a Daughter||Anticipating raising a child / advice||TED Talk|
|Sarah Kay||Love Poem from the Toothbrush to the Bicycle Tire||Extended metaphor / love poem||NYC Urbana Slam; Bowery Poetry Club|
|Sarah Kay||Useless Bay||Relationships / extended metaphor||Sheen Center for Thought and Culture|
|Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye||When Love Arrives||Love / misconceptions / understandings||Button Poetry|
|Rudy Francisco||My Honest Poem||Autobiographical
|Rudy Francisco||Complainers||Stop complaining over trivial stuff||Jimmy Fallon Show|
|Rudy Francisco||Rifle||Gun violence, toxic masculinity||Jimmy Fallon Show|
|Rudy Francisco||Adrenaline Rush||Police brutality / racism||Button Poetry|
|Phil Kaye||Repetition||Effects of divorce on kid||Button Poetry|
|Phil Kaye||Before the Internet||Childhood nostalgia||Button Poetry|
|Phil Kaye||Unalienable||Politics / race relations||Button Poetry|
|Clint Smith||How to Raise a Black Son in America||Racial hatred / fear for the ones you love||TED Talk|
|Jose Olivarez||Ode to the First White Girl I Loved||Being isolated for being Mexican|
|Jose Olivarez||You Get Fat When You Fall In Love||Love poem||The Firehouse Space, Brooklyn NY|
|Sy Stokes||The Black Bruins||UCLA students criticizing racial inequality on campus||UCLA / personal video|
|Sekou “Tha Misfit” Andrews||When I Grow Up||Aspirations / dreams||Stage performance|
|Melissa, Zaria, Rhiannon||Somewhere in America||Social commentary on America / school||Queen Latifah Show / Get Lit|
|Sabrina Benaim||Explaining My Depression to My Mom||Depression||National Poetry Slam 2014|
|Sabrina Benaim||Unrequited Love Poem in Nine Acts||Love / relationships||Button Poetry|
|Prince EA||I’m Not Black, You’re Not White||Race||Personal video|
|Prince EA||Can We Autocorrect Society?||Overuse and reliance on technology||Personal video|
|Sierra DeMulder||Today Means Amen||Inspirational / anti depression||Button Poetry|
|Suli Breaks||Friends||What our friends say about us||Personal video|
|Suli Breaks||Ode to the Millennial Generation||Misunderstood millennials||TED talk|
|Suli Breaks||Why I Hate School But Love Education||Learning / education||Personal video|
|?||Muslim Girl / Jewish Girl||Stereotypes||Brave New Voices quarterfinals|
|Alex Dang||What Kind of Asian are You?||Racial stereotypes||Button Poetry|
|Lemon Anderson||Please Don’t Take My Air Jordans||The lengths we go to for style||TED Talk|
|Daniel Beaty||Knock Knock||Incarcerated fathers||VICE News / The American Justice Summit|
|Taylor Mali||Totally Like Whatever You Know||Speak with conviction||Def Poetry Jam|
|Melissa Lozada-Olivia||Like Totally Whatever (after Taylor Mali)||Toxic masculinity / white male privilege||Button Poetry|
|Steve Connell||All In||What it takes to excel||Farmers Insurance commercial|
|Clementine Von Radics||For Teenage Girls||Women’s empowerment||Soap Box Poetry Slam|
|Savannah Brown||Poem for Ohio||Tribute / ode||Personal video|
|Xero Skidmore||A Tribute to the Resilience of New Orleans||Tribute / ode||Personal video|
|Bianca Phipps||Open Letter to the Mother of Michael Dunn||Racism / gun violence||Button Poetry|
|Dominique Christina & Denice Frohman||No Child Left Behind||Social commentary on education||Button Poetry / Boulder, CO|
|Shane Koyczan||To This Day||Bullying||Animated video|
|David Bowden||The Inner Net||Divided and/or disengaged society||College student’s final project|
|Mike Rosen||When God Happens||9/11 – God||NYC Urbana Slam / Bowery Poetry Club|
|Malcolm Landon||High School Training Ground||Systemic problems in education||TED talk|
Beltway Poetry (?)
|The American Dream||Social commentary / inequality||National Poetry Slam 2014|
|Hanif Abdurraquib||OK, I’m Finally Ready to Say I’m Sorry for that One Summer||Gender roles/expectations / friendship||Button Poetry|
|Hanif Abdurraquib||All the Ways I Kept Myself Alive Today||Finding inner strength||Button Poetry|
|Hanif Abdurraquib||When I say that Loving Me is Kind of Like Being a Chicago Bulls Fan||Self awareness / explaining ourselves to someone||Button Poetry|
|Hanif Abdurraquib||At My First Punk Rock Show Ever||Accepting yourself when others don’t||Button Poetry Live|
|Hanif Abdurraquib||Summer of 2009||Where do I even start with this one?||Button Poetry|
|Blythe Baird||When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny||Eating disorder / recovery||National Poetry Slam 2015|
|Rebeca Mae||Dear God of Hiccups||Hiccups / losing someone||National Poetry Slam 2015|
|Emi Mahmoud||People Like Us||War / genocide||WOWPS 2016|
Wow! Thank you for this awesome list, Joe!
My class had the incredible opportunity to bring in Jay Ward for a slam poetry workshop.
Jay Ward is a dynamic poet, performer and teaching artist. He represented Charlotte at the Individual World Poetry Slam three consecutive years and at the National Poetry Slam for two consecutive years. He was a 2017 Fellow of both Callaloo and The Watering Hole. Mr. Ward has been featured in many venues across the country and has spoken at UNCC, Kenyon College, and the NCBS 40th Anniversary Conference, among other places. He was Charlotte’s 2016 Poet of the Year, and the 2018 Charlotte Grand Slam Champion. The Slam Charlotte team went on to win the 2018 National Championship, and Mr. Ward will represent Charlotte again on the 2019 team. And you can read his incredible poems in his book Black Mythology.
I’d like to share with you some of the advice Jay gave my students in his workshop.
For writing poetry in general, Jay suggests:
- Don’t edit as you write. Everything exists in a 1st draft. Don’t stifle creativity as you go. Don’t be afraid of being too cheesy. Let it all into your draft.
- Find yourself in their work. Ask yourself why are writing this poem. Avoid generalities and get a specific to your experience as you can. The more specific you are, the more inviting you will be to your audience.
- Ask yourself, “Why did I write this?” Consider why is it important to you. Tell a story. What is the poem really about to you on a personal level.
Writing a poem is one of the bravest things you can do. ~Jay Ward
Poetry can often help us heal, as well as provide a source of healing for others.
For slam performances, Jay’s tips are:
- Slow down! Give the words the weight they deserve.
- Square up. When standing in front of a crowd, you need to find your base. Feet should be hip-width apart, stand up straight, don’t sway. Pretend there is a frame around your face (he referred to it as a “box”) and that any movements outside of this frame, such as fidgeting, hand gestures, or rocking, are distracting. Build any movements in where they make sense, then return back to your base.
- Let the words dictate the performance. The words tell you what you need for the performance. Any movements should be purposeful and meaningful with the language of the poem.
- Stick the landing. Don’t trail off at the end. The emotion and volume of the last words should match the rest of the poem. End it strong.
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