Are You Listening? Poetry Slam and Social Commentary

For National Poetry Month we were tempted to pay homage to classics like Poe, Whitman, Neruda, and all the other greats. But much of the buzz in the poetry world is not around words on a page, but rather the voice and performance of the poet. We’re talking about poetry slam, and it’s been growing in popularity thanks to the web and social media. You no longer have to head to a club to see a live performance – YouTube brings the hottest slam poets right to your screen. And if you’ve never heard of this art form, prepare to emote (hard).

So what is a poetry slam?

According to Poetry Slam, Inc., it’s “the competitive art of performance poetry. It puts a dual emphasis on writing and performance, encouraging poets to focus on what they’re saying and how they’re saying it.” The live performance encourages poets to be expressive and emotional not only in the words they choose to say but also in how they say them. Because slam poetry often includes an element of competition, poets strive to bring as much energy and passion as they can to their readings in order to beat out the competition.

Of course, performance poetry isn’t a new concept, as its vibrant and varied history encompasses ancient Greek lyric and Shakespearean plays (and lots in between). And most, if not all, art forms throughout global history have continually reflected and were influenced by their political, cultural, and economic contexts.

Similarly, slam poetry can take any format, theme, or topic of the poet’s choosing (within the confines of any competition parameters). Unsurprisingly, the most popular topics tend to be unapologetic social commentary, recited through the lens of personal experience and delivered with raw emotion.

Then what’s so new?

Well, couple all of the above with sharable video tools like the aforementioned YouTube and you’ve got an undeniable platform calling for social revolution.

We put together some of our favorite spine-tingling (and in my case tear-inducing, no shame) poems below. Let us know your favorites, any that we missed, and your reactions in the comments!

Happy National Poetry Month!

Want to get involved? Find a Poetry Slam near you.

Gender and Sexuality

*This video has some language that may be offensive.

*Dear Straight People by Denice Frohman | A call for equality.

Pride by Sibel Sayiner and Violet Trachtenberg | Criticism of corporate sponsorship and a lack of intersectional and inclusive “pride”.

Hir by Alysia Harris and Aysha El Shamayleh | The dual identities of a transgender person.

Misogyny and Gender Roles

*The Period Poem by Dominique Christina | Response to a boy’s disgust over female anatomy.

*10 Responses to the Phrase Man Up by Guante | Criticism of telling men and boys to “man up”.

The Type by Sarah Kay | Urging women not to define themselves through men.

Race and Ethnicity

What Kind of Asian are You? by Alex Dang | A response to ignorant questioning.

*Cuz He’s Black by Javon Johnson | Commentary on hardships of Black men and young boys.

*Mixed, Not Exotic by Sarah O’NealA response to ignorance on mixed ethnicities.