For a really long time, I thought I wasn’t a “poetry,” person. I was always under the impression that poetry just wasn’t “my thing.” I was overwhelmed by the rhyming, rhythm and insight. I thought there’s no way I could write something emotional yet beautiful enough that someone else would want to read it. I thought that poetry was too smart, too deep and just too vulnerable for me. It has to be too beautiful, too melodic and too Shakespearean. I was too unintelligent to read it and far too uninspired to write it.
However, I eventually discovered slam poetry and my world was forever changed. I now consider myself a poet, as well as a journalist. I consider myself a reporter and a storyteller. When I’m really going through it, I watch slam poetry until I am inspired enough to write it. I consider slam poetry something that anyone can access and relate to—something that everyone can see themselves in. No matter who you are, someone is writing a story similar to yours, maybe better than you can, and that is beautiful.
With this said, we have now been in quarantine for a long while. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been a little extra sad or introspective in this isolation. For those of you that may be looking for words for your heartbreak, trauma or even empowerment and have been meaning to give slam poetry a try, I wanted to make a list for you to get started.
Content warning: some of these poems contain details about mental illness, sexual assault or other sensitive topics.
If your mental illness is especially present:
"Explaining My Depression To My Mother" by Sabrina Benaim
This piece is quite popular in the slam poetry community. It truly puts into words the experience of explaining your depression, or any mental illness, to another person that may love you, but doesn’t fully understand. It also narrates the feelings of depression and anxiety in both beautiful and tragic ways. Benaim’s authentic and vulnerable performance gives me a sense of comfort when I’m feeling like no one understands the sadness I’m feeling.
"Just Take A Shower" by Jared Singer
Singer’s performance and writing of this poem are both utterly chilling. Let’s be honest, sometimes our sadness is so powerful it’s difficult to do basic things like respond to emails, cook breakfast or take a shower. In this poem, Singer reminds us that “if you’re lucky, if there’s a miracle, you take a shower, and you get up. And you keep doing tiny things until the world is a slightly less dark place.”
"The Perfect Panic Attack" by Patrick Roche
CW: This poem could be triggering for someone with a history of self harm, suicidal thoughts or anxiety/panic attacks. Please only watch this if you are in the appropriate mindset.
“The Perfect Panic Attack” describes an “ideal” and romanticized panic attack for anyone who regularly experiences them. The romanticized use of the word “perfect” is to paint the image of an ideal panic attack, which truly doesn’t exist. However, the poem reminds you that a panic attack is temporary, although scary, and your body is fighting for you through it. Sometimes all we need is the reminder that our body is always fighting for our survival.
If you’re feeling introspective and in the mood for self reflection:
"My Honest Poem" by Rudy Fransisco
This is one of my all time favorite poems. Fransisco is simply being honest about aspects of his personality that may not be the most appealing or beautiful. He reflects on what he knows to be true about himself. He doesn’t necessarily dwell on the negative, but he doesn’t only list positives either. He is simply being honest and vulnerable, and it’s a comforting poem when you merely want some insight.
If you want some perspective on other people and communities:
"No Child Left Behind" by Dominique Christina and Denice Frohman
This piece is recognizing the flaws in the academic slogan “no child left behind.” It unpacks the communities that are often left out of education in America. Christina and Frohman tell their stories and remind us that poetry is not a white man’s game. The words are wise and the performance is extremely enriching.
"Can You Hear Me?" by Nia Lewis
CW: This poem tackles police brutality vividly.
In a chilling performance, Nia Lewis talks about police brutality through a phone call to her uncle. As a privileged white person that can not relate to the fear in her voice or words, I get goosebumps from the story. I encourage anyone who wants or needs insight about race and police brutality to give this poem a listen.
"Joey" by Neil Hilborn
CW: This poem touches on suicidal thoughts and depression.
The reason this poem is not under the category of mental illness, is because this poem provides more insight about financial privilege. Counseling, medication and other resources that help those with mental illnesses all cost money. Hilborn analyzes his privilege by recalling a friend who didn’t have it. If you’ve never considered the role money often plays in mental stability, I recommend this poem.
"Adrenaline Rush" by Rudy Fransisco
CW: Police Brutality
In a reflection on the first time he was pulled over, Rudy Fransisco explains the fear and “adrenaline rush” black people experience every day. “Jim Crow may have left the nest but our streets are still covered in its feathers.”
"Somewhere In America" by Los Angeles Team
In this group performance, young women tackle topics like race, sexual assault, social-economic status, sexuality and more. In a tragically beautiful performance, they remind us of the many flaws in America. They tell society the different things they learned through experiences, and not through books or lectures.
If you’re heartbroken, in love, or anywhere in between:
"When Love Arrives" by Sarah Kay and Phil Kaye
This is one of the most popular slam poems on the internet, and with good reason. I genuinely believe that anyone who pursues romantic relationships should give this piece a listen. Kay and Kaye unpack love in the many different forms it can take. This piece also addresses the role time plays in love. It really teaches you to accept love as it comes and let go of it as it leaves.
"Me, But Happy" by Neil Hilborn
CW: This poem mentions suicidal thoughts.
Hilborn is one of the most well-known slam poets out there. He’s especially known for his poem “OCD,” which I really do recommend. However, I wanted to share “Me, But Happy” because it’s an example of a slam poem with a little bit of humor. Hilborn admits the poem is new, and even “dumb,” but it still has lines that give me chills and truly describe being in love. The raw and authentic humor combined with the genuine love, make this poem a really good one if you’re simply in love.
"On Platonic Love Being A Real Thing" by Sabrina Benaim
Do you believe in platonic love? I think a little part of all of us does. Benaim paints a picture of a circle of friends that contains no shortage of love and intimacy, and I truly think it’s a beautiful description of what love can be.
"The Kindest Thing She Almost Did" by Blythe Baird
If you are in love with someone who almost was your everything, almost was your endgame, almost loved you enough—this is a poem for you. If you find yourself always being the one who loves harder and more intensely, this poem should hit home for you. Baird begins this poem with humorous anecdotes about her ex-love, and ends it with tragic recounts of how they ended. I listen to it and recall lost loves, and can’t help but feel sad. However, the poem is beautiful enough that I enjoy the nostalgia.
"Love" by Jared Singer
This piece is just a vivid and elaborate definition of love by Singer, and boy, does it get a lot of it right. This is fine to listen to whether you’re currently in love, heartbroken, or just trying to remember what love is.
If you need some empowerment:
"9 Things I Would Like To Tell Every Teenage Girl" by Melissa Newman-Evans
I’ve watched this poem since I was a teenage girl, and it still makes me feel strong and powerful every time. You don’t need to be a teenage girl or woman to enjoy this poem, but it sure helps.
"Guilt Doesn't Live Here Anymore" by Blythe Baird
CW: This poem mentions sexual assault and suicidal thoughts.
Baird is my favorite poet, and I consider this her best work. This poem has the power to get me out of bed in the morning and remember who the hell I am. This poem has the ability to remind me that everything I’ve been through has not only made me who I am, but that person is strong, capable and badass. If you want to feel like a woman about to take over the world, I recommend listening to this piece.
"Facts About Myself" by Tucker Bryant
This piece could have also gone under mental illness, introspection or even the category about gaining perspective. However, Bryant ends this poem in an empowering place, which makes me recommend it if you want to be empowered by all you’ve been through.
Slam poetry and spoken word is an avenue by which people may tell their stories and experiences. It’s an art form that I wish more people enjoyed as casually and frequently as they do music. Once I discovered this art form, I was no longer overwhelmed by the poetry I read in high school English classes. I was no longer scared to try to express myself through metaphors. I realized that this form of poetry is one where everyone is welcome. Everyone is able to be a storyteller or listener.
I know this may still be overwhelming, but if you just listen to their words, hear their voices and empathize with the experiences, you may find something you’ve been seeking, like I did. And if you don’t, at least you heard some people’s stories.