10 Sensational Slam Poetry Performances that are Worth Your Time

10 Sensational Slam Poetry Performances that are Worth Your Time

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.”

3. Nkosi Nkululeko – “Not Finished Yet”

“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.

9. Rudy Francisco – “Complainers”

“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!

Local Focus w/ Amelia Walker [INTERVIEW]

Local Focus w/ Amelia Walker [INTERVIEW]

A couple of weeks ago I had the pleasure of interviewing South Australia’s very own poet, teacher and creative, Amelia Walker.

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Photograph by Martin Christmas for Spoken Word South Australia

So before we begin, for those of you unaware of Amelia’s success in the creative arts, let’s get to it!

She has performed at various festivals including the Transeuropa/ Arts 4 Human Rights festival in London and the World Poetry Festival in Kolkata.

Not only that, but she also completed her PhD in 2016 about the value of creative writing in contemporary higher education and research at the University of South Australia.

Amelia is also the author of three poetry collections, and three poetry teaching books in Macmillan’s ‘All You Need to Teach’ series.

She was also the 2015 Winner of the Australasian Association of Writing Programs Postgraduate Conference Paper Prize in the creative paper and critical paper fields.

You can listen to a brief snapshot of Amelia’s interview below.

[ME] What first sparked your interest in writing poetry?

[AMELIA] I was 14 years old and I actually hadn’t really gotten into poetry at all because growing up in school the kind of poetry I’d been exposed to was rhyming, it was about flowers, we were kinda forced to write it. I didn’t think it was my thing. But then my sister and I together actually discovered on our parent’s bookshelf, a book of poems that was an anthology by the Beat generation and it was completely different to anything we had seen before. These poems were kind of rude, political, they were written in a style that was like your friend talking to you over a cup of coffee, it wasn’t this high, fancy language. So, they were raw poems that spoke to me and made me think wow I want to read more poetry and eventually I want to do this too. I could write this.

[ME] So could you please explain the meaning behind your poems “Ten by Ten” and “Cyber Tourist”? What thoughts were going through your mind when you were writing these?

[AMELIA] Both of those were written when I was down in Port Pirie, so this was almost ten years ago now and I was down there for an Artists in Regional Schools project run by Carclew Youth Arts Centre and the South Australian Youth Arts Board.

Port Pirie is an old town with a big lead smelter and there’s been a lot of stuff in the press about the effects of that on people’s health. There was a campaign to get the lead levels in people’s blood down to 10 micrograms per decilitre by the year 2010 and that actually failed in this campaign, so the poem is a reflection on that and a reflection on what mining and so forth has done to that town and done to a lot of people around Australia.

Now “Cyber Tourist” is not about Pirie but about Broken Hill. And that’s about anticipating a visit to Broken Hill for their annual poetry festival. And in that I was just looking on Google Maps at this place I was going to and had never been to before and it’s really interesting because all the streets in Broken Hill are named after different minerals that you can mine. So I was thinking about how the map of the city and how we name places tells a story but also at that time, it was also a sad story because if you go to Broken Hill, you see the memorial to the people who died in mining and you also see the ongoing effects on peoples lives. Around that time I was writing this poem, there was a huge lay off of people who were working in the mines and a lot of upsets in the town and a lot of struggle.

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Photograph by Michael Reynolds.

[ME] So what power do you believe poetry possesses?

[AMELIA] I believe it possesses all kinds of powers, good and evil. My email address is poetryisdangerous which people always think that’s a strange thing for a poet to say but I believe poetry is woven through every part of our lives. Poetry is not just that stuff we read in books or read at slam events and open mics, poetry is in advertising and on TV and sometimes that poetry is very, very dangerous because language is incredibly coercive, and language is the material in which we think. So I actually believe that by writing poetry, we become aware of the techniques that are used in advertising and propaganda: we can pull apart their mechanisms and become aware of how they try to get us thinking in particular ways. That means we can resist.

[ME] Do you feel a certain way when performing your poetry? Do you feel liberated when you perform?

[AMELIA] Yeah absolutely! It’s scary because often you are talking about very vulnerable things and particularly just standing up and public speaking on its own without it necessarily being personal on any level is known as one of those great phobias that people have. But I guess it is also like an extreme sport or jumping out of a plane, you get that adrenalin rush and sometimes really good things come up through it. And I’ve been on both sides of that.  You know standing in the crowd, hearing someone read a poem and think wow that’s an experience I’ve also had and I’ve been scared to talk about and you’ve been brave enough to speak about. And then I’ve had people say that to me as well after performing.

[ME] How do you believe poetry has helped positively influence those who have experienced personal trauma and mental health issues?

[AMELIA] Well I guess I said before about how it can start conversations and make people aware that they’re not alone and things. So, I think the forming of communities through poetry is a really strong thing. And you know there’s a lot of theories about bibliotherapy and various techniques that psychologists use and writing for people to deal with their mental health.

I also know there is a flip side to that. I also know that writing can actually bring up a lot of difficult emotional stuff. If you don’t necessarily put adequate support and self-care in there, it can take you into places that are quite raw and dangerous without necessarily giving you an out. I want to say it’s both of those things. It can be really healing and amazing and form communities, but it can also be quite terrifying. You can’t just rely on poetry, you do need social support and you do need to have counselling or whatever works for you.

And if you are planning to write on something that could trigger you or you’re planning to read an event that could trigger others, think about where you are going to be after this? Am I going to be safe? If I’m reading this out I’ll give a trigger warning and adequate time for anyone in the room who doesn’t want to hear this material to exit.

[ME] Who are some of your personal favourite poets?

[AMELIA] So many. One of the first poets who really kinda grabbed me was Lawrence Ferlinghetti, he was one of the Beat generation. And other poets in the Beat generation also really grabbed me. I’ll make a special mention of Diane Di Prima and Denise Levertov because they are two female Beat poets who perhaps don’t get as much recognition as some of the male ones.

Another poet who inspired me a lot as I moved into my late teens and early twenties and I was dealing with body image issues as a lot of women do, is Grace Nichols who wrote this amazing collection called the “The Fat Black Woman’s Poems” and it’s all in the voice of this character who speaks back against ideals and norms of beauty and it was very raw about what a woman can look like and can be anything.

One other poet I’ll mention, who is not normally called a poet, is Janet Frame, a New Zealand author, who is best known for her novels but she also wrote amazing poetry.

[ME] Is there anything else you’d like to add?

[AMELIA] A little disclaimer, advertising possibly, Adelaide has an amazing poetry scene and we have an amazing little Facebook page called the Adelaide Poetry Gig Guide, so, anybody who is looking to get into poetry and come to events pop on that Adelaide Poetry Gig Guide, there are gigs every week and there are amazing people, its supportive, friendly and you know, come join us!

If you liked this interview or have any feedback for me, I would love to hear from you!

Floating Brilliant Gone by Franny Choi REVIEW

Floating Brilliant Gone by Franny Choi REVIEW

A Korean-American woman with flair, creativity and an extreme knack for writing. Today’s review is on her debut 2014 book “Floating Brilliant Gone.”

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(And yes I know this review is quite late, but I only started to appreciate and properly discover poetry in 2016).

Anyways, I have selected 6 poems from her book that I really enjoyed and provided my own analysis of them. So let’s get into it!

The Well

Choi illustrates in her poem ­The Well, the immensity of loss from a detached third person perspective. She uses the metaphor of a well to describe how suffocating her life without her lover has become as it is now a “distant moon, a past life.” She highlights the dreariness of her loss as she has succumbed to the intoxicating and numbing effects of alcohol as she is no longer Franny Choi but “Dark-Drinker.” Choi ends this poem by personifying the night as an escape from her current life as she is “all open mouth asking for the night.” However, the night asks her to stay and “she stays.” These last lines stood out for me as it suggests that the night could be Choi’s inner-most thoughts and despite the temptation to leave this life behind and reconnect with her lover, she must resist and understand her present life and how her departure would impact those around her.

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The Well Pt 2

 

Halloween, 2009

Simple, shocking and confronting. Choi doesn’t make use of fancy figurative language in this poem to describe her disbelief on hearing of her boyfriend’s passing, calling his mother “a liar” when she told her of the ordeal. She depicts that despite her conscious mind being unable to digest this horrific news, her subconscious resumes life in mourning as she “put up [her] hair and changed: black shirt, black pants” for a reading of her play. Choi emphasises her disbelief through irony as people say she “looked like a writer” dressed in black without understanding her subconscious motives of her colour choice.

The use of enjambment in the first two couplets also replicates how she can’t comprehend the situation and wants to runaway from it. However, the couplets thereafter become more punctuated suggesting that she must come to terms with this bitter reality.

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Pussy Monster

Hilarious, creative and thought-provoking. At first, I didn’t quite understand this poem but once I read and viewed it a couple times it will hit you. Choi reinvents Weezy F Baby’s song “Pussy Monster” from Tha Carter III (which also has one of my favourite songs by him “Mr Carter” check it out haha) by rearranging the lyrics to the song in order of frequency. By using semantic saturation and satire especially of the word “pussy” which is said an unsurprisingly 40 times, Choi highlights the sexism evident in society especially in the music industry.

You can watch her performing this poem (which I highly recommend) here.

To the Man who Shouted “I like Pork Fried Rice” at me on the Street

This is one of my favourites from Floating Brilliant Gone. Choi emphasises the stereotypical nature of how Asian women are exoticized “brimming with foreign.” She describes how the man fantasises 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.

You can watch her performing this poem here.

Drive to Quinebaug Valley

An uplifting poem and a reminder to be present. I really enjoyed this piece as Choi reminds us of the simple yet delightful pleasures of driving with our loved ones as “blessed are the insides of wrists that wriggle into conversation.” She describes the drive as a “chrysalis in the cushions” depicting the state of comfort and peace she finds within her friends. However, the last lines really stand out as reminder to us that despite the circumstances we must continue the “ever-rhythm of live, live, live.”

Heaven is a Fairy Tale (& Vice Versa)

Coherent, simple and only a sentence long. Choi highlights to us the cold truth that at times “we are all dutifully practising our deaths” and that both heaven and death are just fairy tales.

 

If you liked the review and would like to purchase the book, you can do so here.