Introduction to Spoken Word and Slam Poetry

Today’s post is a collaboration brought to you by guest author, Joe Paris, and me, Melissa Smith. You can follow us on Twitter @ParisBMS and @MelAlterSmith.

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
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


Self analysis

Button Poetry
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.

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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.

Thank you for reading! Do you have a story, lesson, activity, or something else to share with Be a guest author! Email me at 

You can follow me on Twitter at @MelAlterSmith and please tweet all the awesome things you are doing in your class with the #TeachLivingPoets hashtag! 

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