Written by Colleen Mitchell
Spoken word poetry has garnered attention in recent years as an art form that appeals to a wide audience. Spoken word is poetry that is meant to be performed for an audience rather than read from the page. In the late 80s, “slam” competitions developed in which poets perform their poems in a competition judged by audience response.
The art form is credited with reviving an interest in poetry for a new generation. Spoken word poetry has become a language of revolution, an insistent and emotionally charged expression of their political views and personal narratives of injustice. Racial, cultural, and gender identity are common subject matter for spoken word poems.
African-American voices have contributed significantly to the slam poetry community and are among some of the most highly recognized poets in the movement. Their poems and both challenge and inspire, and are, without a doubt, worth lending an attentive ear to. Here is a list of nine not-to-miss African-American poets and poems. You can find these and many other spoken word performances on YouTube.
· Danez Smith describes himself as “a Black, queer, poz writer & performer from St. Paul, MN.” He is an award-winning poet in both written and performance style. Not to be missed poem: “Dear White Americans”
· Steven Willis: At 25, Steven Willis has already been a World Poetry Slam finalist three times. His main goal in writing and performing poetry is to creatively articulate African-American culture. Not to be missed poem: “Ebonics 101”
· Malcolm London has been nationally recognized for his art, both as an individual poet and as a member of a performance team. He uses the art of spoken word poetry to address current social issues and events. Not to be missed poem: “High School Training Ground”
· Rudy Francisco is one of the mostly widely recognized names in spoken word poetry. His poems are a combination of social critique and introspection, and he is appreciated by audiences for his use of humor and his ability to connect. Not to be missed poem: “Adrenaline Rush”
· Alysia Harris is a formerly trained poet who calls herself a Southern girl at heart. She is a founder of the renowned spoken word poetry cooperative, Strivers Row, and has performed at the United Nations, as well touring nationally and internationally. Not to be missed poem: “Guinness Skin”
· Aja Monet is a poet and activist of Cuban-Jamaican heritage. She was the youngest poet to ever win the champion title at the Nuyorican Poet’s Café Grand Slam at 19. She is an outspoken activist in the “Say Her Name” movement. Not to be missed poem: “Say Her Name”
· Aziza Barnes is a studied poet and member of the renowned Strivers Row poetry collective. She describes her goal of her art as “interrogating what it means to be relentlessly authentic”. Safia Elhillo is an internationally-known poet focusing on themes of cultural identity and feminism. She was a founding member of the NYU poetry slam team and two-time national champion. Not to be missed poem: “To the Girl in My Jazz Class”
· Porscha Olayiwola is a World Poetry Slam champion and an outspoken activist on issues pertaining to queer women of color. She has represented the United States in slam poetry competitions world-wide. Not to be missed poem: “Water”
· Amir Sulaiman was featured on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam in the early 2000’s and has since become an internationally renowned spoken word poet who tours the world performing his work. His poems explore passionately what it means to reconcile humanity. Not to be missed poem: “Come to the Hills (We Must Win)”
Amir Sulaiman was featured on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam in the early 2000’s and has since become an internationally renowned spoken word poet who tours the world performing his work. His poems explore passionately what it means to reconcile humanity. Not to be missed poem: “Come to the Hills (We Must Win)”