A Back-To-School Intro to Spoken Word and Slam Poetry in the Twin Cities

***UPDATED 9/10/19***

First off, here is a list of local spoken word events, open mics, and poetry slams that I put together. As always, a quick disclaimer: that list, and what follows here, are not guides to every spoken word-oriented event or organization in our community. Just a few that I’d recommend. Feel free to recommend more!

The Twin Cities has one of the most vibrant spoken word scenes in the country, and whether you’re new here or grew up here, here are a few highlights that should be on your radar:

TruArtSpeaks, Be Heard, and the ReVerb Open Mic
This is an organization that I work with, so I’m a little biased, but I also know that we do good work. Be Heard is the annual youth (13-19) poetry slam series; last year was huge, and this year should be even bigger, so watch out for news on that. The ReVerb open mic was highlighted as the Best Open Mic in the Twin Cities by City Pages in 2015. It takes place every Thursday at Golden Thyme Cafe in St. Paul, 6-8pm, and is free and all-ages. It’s a unique, intimate space, and the event is built around dialogue and community-building– all great factors for anyone who is just getting started, or is maybe a little nervous. There’s also a free writing workshop at 4:30pm every first Thursday of the month.

Button Poetry and Button Poetry LIVE
If you’ve ever seen a viral poetry slam video online, the odds are very good that it was a Button Poetry video. With over a million subscribers and 200 million+ views, they’ve become the premier source for spoken word video on the internet. They’re also based in the Twin Cities. What’s more, Button hosts a monthly poetry slam every first Monday of the month (at the Park Square Theater in Saint Paul) that is open to anyone (18+) willing to have their work judged by strangers (though please note, not everyone who signs up is guaranteed a slot to perform). Featuring big-name national featured poets, Button Poetry Live is consistently one of the best shows in town; they also put on some great non-slam spoken word shows (often at Icehouse or Honey, both clubs in Minneapolis). Check out their calendar here.

College Poetry Slams and Spoken Word Organizations
For a lot of college students, the easiest place to plug in is with your on-campus organization. Here are some links to the ones that I know, though I’m sure that there are others too. Keep in mind that student orgs don’t always update their social media as regularly as they could; you may have to do a little digging of your own to find out when the next events are:

  • Hamline Poetry Slam
  • Macalester Poetry Slam
  • SPEAK Poetry at the University of MN
  • There are or have been spoken word groups at MCTC, Augsburg, Metro State, St. Kate’s, St. Thomas, Carleton, and other schools (not to mention high schools); I don’t have info for them currently, but it may be a matter of searching around and/or starting one yourself.
Equilibrium at the Loft Literary Center
The most powerful spoken word shows that I’ve attended have been part of the EQ series, which brings together national and local spoken word artists of color. They did a “supershow” last year, and it was incredible– you can watch the whole thing (including Patricia Smith, Ed Bok Lee, Danez Smith, myself and many more) here. The Loft also offers classes on a wide range of writing topics, if you’re looking to sharpen your craft.
Storytelling Stages
If you’re familiar with stuff like the Moth, there are a couple of organizations in town doing storytelling readings and/or competitions. Check out Story Slam, Rockstar Storytellers, Story Arts of MN, and Story Club Minneapolis.

More Resources and Opportunities
There’s so much more; these are just a few personal highlights. But a few other things to mention:
  • Other Events: check out the full(er) list of local spoken word events here— the Free Black Table (organized by Black Table Arts), Eclectica (organized by The Avant Garde), the New Sh!t Show and OutSpoken (both organized by Wordsprout) and so much more are happening regularly, and new things, or one-time things, pop up all the time.
  • There are also spoken word collectives like Speakers of the Sun, Palabristas, and more; keep an eye out for their events.
  • I’ve gathered together a bunch of resources for aspiring spoken word artists here, including my video series sharing tips, tools, and tactics that have been useful to me.
As I’ve been saying, this is all just the tip of the iceberg. For anyone reading this, feel free to leave links to other spoken word events or resources in the comments. But I hope this can be a start. Spoken word is a democratic, participatory culture, so if you’re interested in poetry and/or performance, I hope you can find a place to plug in and get involved.