A Beginner’s Guide to Spoken Word and Slam Poetry

NOTE: this entire page is being overhauled. Hope to update soon!

This page used to just be a list of my favorite poems, plus a link to some more resources for aspiring spoken word artists. What it is now, however, is something a little more specific. What follows is a list of links to spoken word videos that may be useful in social justice education spaces, though it still serves as an excellent “beginner’s guide to spoken word” too.

Be sure to also check out my “Ten Things Everyone Should Know About Spoken Word and Slam Poetry” piece too, kind of a primer for people interested.

List-making, of course, is inherently political. Therefore, it is necessary to begin with a few caveats and framing notes.

First, this is NOT a list of the “best poems ever.” This is a list of poems that offer something that might be useful to facilitators and educators. Those are very different criteria. I have tried to focus on poems that tackle specific issues, poems that encourage critical thinking and questioning, and poems that combine clarity of content with a compelling story, image or hook. I have also tried to focus on poems that have high-quality audio and video, and that feature contemporary practitioners; my hope is that people already know about the classics.

Second, I organized these poems into categories for ease of use, but it is important to note that categorization is imperfect. Poems may address multiple subjects, and even a poem about a specific issue may be relevant to discussions about other issues too.

Finally, this list is not exhaustive or definitive; it is alive, and my hope is that it will continue to grow and evolve over time. It is meant to be an imperfect starting point for further research. I encourage educators to watch and re-watch poems that they are considering for use, be intentional about what “work” you want those poems to do for your particular audience, and continue adding to this list from your own research, from other resources, and from student recommendations.

An Introduction: Ten Poems I’d Recommend
Before we get to the other lists, here are ten poems that I feel like represent what makes spoken word special, especially in the context of how stories and images can be entry points into deeper conversations about issues. If I were going to share any poems with someone who knew nothing about spoken word, or had a bunch of misconceptions about it, I’d probably draw from this list.
• Ariana Brown: Ode to Thrift Stores
• Danez Smith: Alternate Heaven for Black Boys
• Suheir Hammad: First Writing Since
• Sierra DeMulder: Paper Dolls
• Rudy Francisco: The Heart and the Fist
• Patricia Smith: Skinhead
• Kevin Yang: Come Home
• Robbie Q. Telfer: Clowns
• William Nu’utupu Giles: Zombies (Made in America)
• Sonya Renee Taylor: The Body Is Not an Apology

A Few Other Lists I’ve Made
• A Playlist of 30 Poems I’ve Used in Classrooms
• Poems, Links, and Resources RE: #MeToo, Consent, and Rape Culture
• A Few Poems for Educators Who Want to Talk about Charlottesville with Their Students
• Poems, Links, and Resources RE: The Connections Between Masculinity and Violence
• Ongoing Thread: A More In-Depth Look at a Few Poems/Videos

On Feminism, Masculinity, and Gender
• Melissa Lozada-Oliva: Like Totally Whatever
• Rudy Francisco: The Heart and the Fist
• FreeQuency: Masculinity So Fragile
• Sam Sax – After My Boyfriend’s Drag Show
• Donte Collins: Genderlect
• Blythe Baird: Pocket-Sized Feminism
• Lily Myers: Shrinking Women
• FreeQuency: The Princess Poem
• Carlos Andrés Gómez: How to Fight
• Blythe Baird: Girl Code 101
• Olivia Gatwood: Manic Pixie Dream Girl
• Eric Mata: Anatomy of a Hit
• Dominique Christina: The Period Poem
• Kait Rokowski: How to Cure a Feminist
• Lauren Zuniga: To the Oklahoma Lawmakers
• Guante: Handshakes
• Guante: Ten Responses to the Phrase “Man Up”
• Guante: The Art of Taking the L

On Rape Culture, Consent, and Healthy Sexuality
• Sierra DeMulder: Paper Dolls
• Dylan Garity: Friend Zone
• Alyesha Wise: The Interview
• Ollie Schminkey: Two Twin Beds
• Kevin Kantor: People You May Know
• Carrie Rudzinski: In America
• Desireé Dallagiacomo and FreeQuency: American Rape Culture
• Terisa Siagatonu and Rudy Francisco: Sons
• Britteney Conner: Consent
• Anna Binkovitz: Asking For It
• Imani Cezanne: Word Choice
• Caroline Harvey: Consent
• Guante: Action
• Guante: Consent at 10,000 Feet
• Playlist: Poems from #YesYesYes: An Evening of Poems of Consent and Healthy Sexuality
• Also, check out Rachel McKibbens’ “The Outlast Project” here.

On Anti-Blackness, African-American History, and #BlackLivesMatter
• Clint Smith III: History Reconsidered
• Marvin Hodges, Em Allison, and Saidu Tejan-Thomas: Da Rules
• Anthony McPherson: All Lives Matter: 1800s Edition
• Crystal Valentine: Black Privilege
• Steven Willis: Ebonics 101
• Janae Johnson: Black Girl Magic
• Javon Johnson: cuz he’s black
• Aja Monet: Word Warriors #SayHerName
• Joseph Capehart: The Hill
• Danez Smith: Dinosaurs in the Hood
• Guante: Quicksand

On Whiteness, White Privilege, and White Supremacy
• Patricia Smith: Skinhead
• Jared Paul: 5 Times My Skin Color Did Not Kill Me
• Raven McGill: Meanwhile, in Post-Racist America
• Danez Smith: Dear White America
• Andrea Gibson: A Letter to White Queers, A Letter to Myself
• Marshall Gillson: For My White Coworkers
• Aamer Rahman: Reverse Racism
• Guante: How to Explain White Supremacy to a White Supremacist
• Guante: The Invisible Backpacker of Privilege
• Guante: Cherry Spoon Bridge to Nowhere

On Race, Racism, Xenophobia, and Racial Justice
• Suheir Hammad: First Writing Since
• Carlos Andrés Gómez – “Where are You Really From?”
• Carlos Andrés Gómez – 12 Reasons to Abolish C.B.P & I.C.E
• Bao Phi: Broken/English
• Kevin Yang: Come Home
• Kevin Yang: Sam I Am
• Denice Frohman: Accents
• Adriana Ramirez: Wild Stallion (Hair)
• Joseph Capehart: Color Blind
• Mary McDonough: Native Tongue
• Hieu Minh Nguyen: Buffet Etiquette
• Franny Choi: All Look Same
• Ed Bok Lee: American Woods
• Alex Dang: What Kind of Asian Are You?
• Tatiana Ormaza and Juliana Hu Pegues: Under the Table
• Pages Matam, Elizabeth Acevedo, and G. Yamazawa: Unforgettable
• Giles Li: First Draft of Yao Ming’s Retirement Speech
• Melissa Lozada-Oliva: My Spanish
• Bao Phi: Refuge Requiem
• Guante: Dust
• Playlist: Craig Santos Perez put together this big list of poems by Pacific Islanders!
• Playlist: Poems by Proletariat Bronze
• Playlist: Equilibrium Supershow featuring multiple artists including Patricia Smith

On Homophobia, Transphobia and the Struggle for LGBTQ Liberation
• Lauren Zuniga: World’s Tallest Hill
• Cam Awkward-Rich: Obligatory
• Hieu Minh Nguyen: Monica West Is Moving to Omaha, Nebraska
• Tish Jones: March for Me
• Ethan Smith: A Letter to the Girl I Used to Be
• Denice Frohman: Dear Straight People
• Hieu Minh Nguyen: Stubborn Inheritance
• Niko Martell: Guns
• Janani of Dark Matter: trans/national
• Floyd VB: I Have a Body
• Joanna Hoffman: Pride
• Yesha Townsend: Physiology of a Sound
• Joanna Hoffman and Daniel “Fritz” Silber-Baker: Coming Out

Poems that Fit in Multiple Categories (many do, but especially these)
• Hieu Minh Nguyen: Southbound
• Kai Davis: Ain’t I a Woman
• Carvens Lissaint and Cynthia Ceez Keteku: Switch
• Keno Evol: More Recent Memories
• Franny Choi: Pork Fried Rice
• Josh Healey: Queer Intifada
• Jamila Woods: Pigeon Man
• Chrysanthemum Tran: Cognates
• Amaris Diaz: Dear Privilege
• Darius Simpson and Scout Bostley: Lost Voices
• Danez Smith: Genesissy
• Sam Sax: After My Boyfriend’s Drag Show
• Guante: A Visit From the PC Police

On Mental Health, Body Image, etc.
• Homeless Ryan K: For Joseph
• Adrienne Novy: Flotation Device
• Sabrina Benaim: Explaining My Depression to My Mother
• Blythe Baird: When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny
• Neil Hilborn: The Future
• Sonya Renee: The Body is Not an Apology
• Kevin Yang: How to Love Your Introvert
• Robbie Q. Telfer: Clowns
• Arati Warrier: Alive
• Kait Rokowski: A Good Day
• Guante: Smalltalk

On Education and Educational Institutions
• Tish Jones: The Poet Talks of Freedom
• Javon Johnson: Debt
• Dylan Garity: Rigged Game
• Raise Up – Terisa Siagatonu
• Alok Vaid-Menon of Dark Matter: Breakup Letter to Stanford University
• Carvens Lissaint: Put the Financial Aid in the Bag
• Terisa Siagatonu: Ethnic Studies
• Tish Jones: Tracks
• Alok Vaid-Menon of Dark Matter: Gender Studies
• Clint Smith: Aristotle
• Kevin Burke: Day Two
• Guante: Starfish
• Guante: Level Up (My Autobiography as a Learner)

On Class, Work, and Activism/Organizing
• Ariana Brown: Ode to Thrift Stores
• Jared Paul: When I Say That I Came Up Poor
• Marge Piercy: The Low Road (as read by Staceyann Chinn)
• Blair: My Time at Chrysler
• Karen Finneyfrock: Newer Colossus
• 2009 Denver BNV Team: Group Piece
• Guante: The Family Business
• Guante: Cartpushers (When They Look Right Through You)
• Guante: A Pragmatist’s Guide to Faith
• Guante: A Pragmatist’s Guide to Magic

BONUS LIST: A Few of My Personal Favorites (some already listed, others not)
• Patricia Smith: Skinhead
• Robbie Q. Telfer: Clowns
• Marge Piercy: The Low Road (as read by Staceyann Chinn)
• Jamaal May: Sky Now Black with Birds
• Marc Bamuthi Joseph: For Pop
• Khary Jackson: Carolina
• Michael Lee: Pass On
• Danez Smith: Dear White America
• B.Dolan: Who Killed Russell Jones?
• Andrea Gibson: Letter to a Playground Bully
• Laura Brown-Lavoie: Drone Operator
• Khary “6 is 9” Jackson: Leave
• Aziza Barnes: Hypnophobia
• Donte Collins: For My Nieces Over North
• Playlist: All of Guante’s Poems