Slam poetry is where poetry, politics, and power combine. Filled with tension, heartbreak, and trauma, slam poetry is where to go if you want to dig into some emotional material. These poets talk about the things we don’t dare to mention at the dinner table: the things that matter most. Be it rape, racism, sexism, violence, homophobia, you name it—these poems tackle heavy subjects with eloquence and ease. Start here if you want to discover one of the richest genres existing today.
Content warning: Many of these pieces are brutal, both in their subject matter and their language.
Dinosaurs in the Hood by Danez Smith
“I want grandmas on the front porch taking out raptors with guns they hid in walls & under mattresses. I want those little spitty, screamy dinosaurs. I want Cicely Tyson to make a speech, maybe two. I want Viola Davis to save the city in the last scene with a black fist afro pick through the last dinosaur’s long, cold-blood neck.”
Crystal Gets Into Interrogation After Assassinating Donald Trump by Crystal Valentine
“They put me in a dark room white men all around me asking all the wrong questions, not sure what to do with this black assassin, so I figured I’d help them out. First, when it came to that man, the question shouldn’t be why did I kill him. The question should be, ‘What took me so long?’”
Pass On by Michael Lee
“When searching for the lost remember 8 things.
We are vessels. We are circuit boards
swallowing the electricity of life upon birth.
It wheels through us creating every moment,
the pulse of a story, the soft hums of labor and love.
In our last moment it will come rushing
from our chests and be given back to the wind.
When we die. We go everywhere.”
B by Sarah Kay
“Instead of ‘Mom,’ she’s gonna call me ‘Point B.’ Because that way, she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me. And I’m going to paint the solar system on the back of her hands so that she has to learn the entire universe before she can say ‘Oh, I know that like the back of my hand.’”
an Origin Story by sarah kay and phil kaye
Phil: “I want to be the mirror that reminds you to love yourself.”
Sarah: “I want to be air in your lungs that reminds you to breathe easy.”
Today Means Amen by Sierra DeMulder
“You, who’s voice is someone’s favorite voice,
Someone’s favorite face to wake up to,
Nothing would be the same if you did not exist.”
siri: a coping mechanism by Patrick Roche
“He does not tell anyone he still has ones from his dead father. He will not delete them. He will not delete dead grandparents’ contact information. He will not delete anything. He is collecting memories and ghosts.”
shrinking women by Lily Myers
“Across from me at the kitchen table, my mother smiles over red wine that she drinks out of a measuring glass.
She says she doesn’t deprive herself,
but I’ve learned to find nuance in every movement of her fork.
In every crinkle in her brow as she offers me the uneaten pieces on her plate.
I’ve realized she only eats dinner when I suggest it.
I wonder what she does when I’m not there to do so.”
shake the dust by anis mojhani
“This is for the benches and the people sitting upon them
For the bus drivers who drive a million broken hymns
For the men who have to hold down three jobs simply to hold up their children
For the nighttime schoolers
And for the midnight bikers who are trying to fly
Shake the dust.”
volver, volver by Ariana Brown
“The first time I heard mariachis was in a restaurant, or at a parade, or an outdoor theater
somewhere. I remember admiring the lone woman in the group, her green polyester, the way
she made her whole body a song, the whole song a mountain, her mouth a red sun spilling
OCD by Neil Hilborn
“She loved that I had to kiss her goodbye sixteen times or twenty-four times if it was Wednesday.
She loved that it took me forever to walk home because there are lots of cracks on our sidewalk.
When we moved in together, she said she felt safe, like no one would ever rob us because I definitely locked the door eighteen times.”
Lost Voices by Darius Simpson and Scout Bostley
“The first day I realized I was black, it was 2000, we had just learned about blacks for the first time in 2nd grade.
At recess, all the white kids chased me into the woods chanting slave.
My mother said I refused to come out for three hours, said she thinks I was lost in the trees, but I just needed to be closer to my roots.”
to jk rowling from cho chang by Rachel Rostad
“When you put me in your books, millions of Asian girls across America rejoiced! Finally, a potential Halloween costume that wasn’t a geisha or Mulan! What’s not to love about me? I’m everyone’s favorite character! I totally get to fight tons of Death Eaters and have a great sense of humor and am full of complex emotions!
Oh wait. That’s the version of Harry Potter where I’m not f**king worthless.”
Ice Cream Man by Paul Tran
WARNING: This poem deals with very heavy, explicit themes of sexual abuse.
“My son was an artist: Loved drawing dinosaurs,
ghosts, monsters. It’s like he was haunted or
something, like something was buried in him.”
What Kind of Asian Are You by Alex Dang
“So he said to me: ‘What kind of Asian are you?’
And I said back: Well that’s a loaded question, what do you expect me to be?
Because any way slice that egg-roll I’m still pretty much what you want to see
I’ve played many a far east stereotype
Awkward math genius
Cold and calculated Kung-Fu expert
Assistant to ‘Dr Jones, you crazy!'”
I’m Not Buying It by Justice Hehir
“The world has decided that this experience is pink
That breast cancer is pink.
Like strawberry ice cream, blush wine, plush wine roses
Which is funny, because I stood in my room, caressing a threat from the outside in, and nothing was pink.”
bitches by Melissa Lozada-Oliva
“The women in my family are bitches.
Cranky bitches, stuck up bitches, Customer Service bitches, turn sour bitches.
Can I help you bitches? Next in line bitches.
I like this purse ’cause it makes me look mean bitches,
Can you take a picture of my outfit for me, get the heals in, bitches.
I always wear heals to la fiesta, and I never take them off bitches.
All men will kill you bitches, all men will leave you anyway bitches.”
dear straight people by Denice Frohman
“Dear Straight People,
You’re the reason we stay in the closet.
You’re the reason we even have a closet.
I don’t like closets, but you made the living room an unshared space
and now I’m feeling like a guest in my own house.”
How to Cure a Feminist by Kait Rokowski
“Step 1: win her over. Do this by pretending you care about women. Example: replace the word tits with the word equality and resume normal conversation. ‘I love equality. I wish that women didn’t have to hide their equality. I really wanna snort cocaine off of some drunk girl’s equality.'”
What other pieces of slam poetry do you consider essential? Find more slam poetry and other poetry recommendations here.