Let me just say that deciding on just 10 poems to showcase was quite difficult because there are so many talented artists. However, this is by no means the best performances but poems that really stood out for me and are easily accessible. I selected these slam poems especially because they cover a diverse range of topics and I believe will change your opinion if you’re reluctant about poetry.
I will also provide a short analysis of each poem.
(Please note I have also excluded including earlier slam poets and I will do that in another post shortly.)
So, in no particular order, let’s begin!
1. Blythe Baird – “Pocket-Sized Feminism”
“I am ashamed of keeping my feminism in my pocket until it is convenient not to, like at poetry slams or woman studies classes. There are days I want people to like me more than I want to change the world.”
Baird explains the “guilt” she feels when despite being a feminist, only voices her opinion when it is a “convenience” rather than at crucial times when it is detrimental to herself and others. For example, she mentions that she remained silent when a man “shoved his hand up [her] skirt” on an escalator because everyone around her was quiet. Baird highlights the reality of feminism through her use of irony when her father tells her “sexism is dead” but reminds her to “always carry pepper spray.” She also uses irony in her final lines to emphasise this point as daughters are told “to be careful” and “safe” whilst sons are told to “go out and play.”
2. Olivia Gatwood – “Ode to the Women on Long Island”
“And last week when a girl was murdered jogging in Queens, the women on Long Island were unstartled and furious. They did not call to warn their daughters, they called their sons, sat them at the kitchen table and said “if you ever, I mean ever so much as make a woman feel unconformable, I will take you to the deli and put your hand in the meat slicer. You think I won’t? You hear me. I will make a hero out of you with mayonnaise, tomatoes, dill and onion.”
Gatwood salutes the women of Long Island as the title implies and illustrates the strength these women hold. She performs this poem with ease, switching from the narrator (being herself) into different characters (being the different women of Long Island). I must say, I have never been to Long Island, but the ease with which she switches accents is so authentic. Through her use of characterisation, Gatwood explains that these women despite their tendency to “hack” and “curse” are wise and comforting as they reassure young females that there is no pressure on them to be in relationships. She also expresses that these women hold all their family members accountable for any incident, as a girl who was “murdered jogging in Queens” doesn’t provoke them to warn their daughters but instead their sons who have their “husband’s hands and blood.”
“What’s a poem if it doesn’t dismantle or split, burn or crack. So there’s gonna be a couple of heads here, limbs, Trayvon of course will be here in metaphor form.”
At first I was confused by this poem as I didn’t quite understand Nkululeko’s approach. However, after watching it a couple times I finally understood it and was in awe of his approach in presenting this performance. From my understanding, Nkululeko’s inability to “start [his] poem” reflects the injustice black youth face as boys like Trayvon and Mike Brown are unable to live their lives in peace. He also uses this technique of continually starting his poem to reflect how America dismisses the issue of unjust police brutality on black people as the “printer keeps on whiting out the black” and how he as a black writer is inclined to “compose a dead thing out of his mouth.” I particularly admired the confronting simile he uses explaining that he is filled with “so many eulogies” like a “Russian doll of the dead.”
4. Jared Singer – “Just Take a Shower”
I think this poem speaks for itself. An intense subject that is superbly said. (This poem does deal with an extremely sensitive topic, so please take necessary precaution. I would recommend watching this one in a place where you feel comfortable).
5. Jared Paul – “When I say that I Came Up Poor”
“When I say that I came up poor, what some folks derisively call hood, somebody else calls home.”
Paul uses a great deal of visual imagery to explain that despite coming up poor, the “hood” will always be his “home.” He illustrates the sense of community the neighbourhood upholds as “they don’t have any concept of what it means to be lonely.” He further emphasises this point, as neighbours are treated “as family” despite being from “three different groups of friends.”
6. Sarah Kay – “Table Games”
Heartbreak presented to you like sweet and salty chips. It will have you laughing and crying.
Side note: Sarah Kay was one of the first slam poets my teacher introduced to us and the first time I learnt about slam poetry.
7. Muna Abdulahi – “Explaining Depression to a Refugee”
“Depression is a white man’s privilege, we don’t have the privilege to have that much time to ourselves.”
Such an important message especially after the recent World Mental Health day and for families who are from a different cultural background who don’t really understand mental health. Abdulahi expresses the confusion her mother, a former Somalian refugee, displays as she is unable to fathom her daughter being diagnosed with depression. She explains the stigmatisation the Somali culture places on mental health as her “native tongue doesn’t speak of it to its existence.” The line that resonated with me the most is how Abdulahi highlights the detrimental impact her depression has on her mother as it is a “fight that she cannot protect [her] from.”
8. Franny Choi – “To the Man who Shouted ‘I like Pork-Fried Rice’ at me on the Street”
“You want to eat me, right out of these jeans and into something a little cheaper, more digestible, more bite-sized, more cooked, you want me lunch special.”
Choi emphasises the stereotypical nature of how Asian women are exoticized “brimming with foreign.” She describes how the man fantasizes about her as he wants to “eat [her] out” as she is “red-light district stuck in [his] teeth.” However, Choi cleverly switches up his traditional fantasy in the end by gaining her revenge as after the ordeal he is left “squirming alive” as she is “strangling [him] quiet from the inside out.” Personally, these last lines left me conflicted with shock but somewhat satisfied as the man is left debilitated, but I guess he got what he deserved.
This poem is from Choi’s debut book Floating Brilliant Gone, if you’re interested you can check out my review on her book here.
“When it feels like God is just a babysitter that’s always on the phone, when you get punched in the oesophagus by a fistful of life, remember that every year two million people die of dehydration so it doesn’t matter if the glass is half full or half empty, there’s water in the cup. Drink it, and stop complaining.”
Such a good reminder to us all. That’s all I’ll say for this one.
Side note: Okay, the fact that he was on Jimmy Fallon makes me so happy and proud.
10. Guante – “Ten Responses to the Phrase ‘Man Up’”
“Man up? Oh that’s that new superhero, right? Mild-mannered supplement salesman Mark Manstrong says the magic words “MAN UP,” and then transforms into THE FIVE O’CLOCK SHADOW, the massively-muscled, deep-voiced, leather-duster-wearing super-man who defends the world from, I don’t know, feelings.”
Guante deconstructs and reiterates the idea of what it means to be a ‘man.’ He explains that society expects men to be “massively muscled” and “deep voiced”, however those who do not fit these ideals are often isolated. He cleverly uses personification to describe that these men “cannot arm wrestle [their] way out of chemical depression” and the male community must acknowledge that these men are more than just “background characters” before it’s too late.
If you liked this post or have any other suggestions of poems I should check out please let me know! I would love to hear from you!