Sunday, 8 February 2015

Spoken Word / Slam Poetry

There is a lot great stuff "out there" - both in the real world and on the internet. So please do your own research and share your findings, in particular if you think they are good!

What I have found and would like to share in this context is the following:

Shane Koyczan - TED Talk:

Francis Arevalo - TED Talk:

Ikena Onyegbula (& Nathanael Larochetto), "Misfit's Lullaby":

Chris Tse, "I'm Sorry I'm a Christian":

Boona Mohammed, "Signs Canadian":

Zacceus Jackson, "Revolution":

Liam coady, "Big Bang Masterpiece":

Mary Pinkoski - TED Talk:

Ian Keteku, "Something You Might Not Know about Canada":

Of course, this is only a start....

Please feel free to comment on any of these poems/ performances or on other poems/performances that you would like to comment on in this context.

Again, you are most welcome to share your own spoken word performance here - preferably in the form of a youtube link since this is probably the easiest way of sharing a recording in the comment section.

Please also check out the live slam sessions at the Cafe Deux Soleils on Commercial!

Image from:


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  2. This isn't slam poetry, but it is recorded by the poet - "Dark Pines Under Water" by Canadian poet Gwendolyn MacEwen (I believe this poem is in one of our handouts). It was written in the 70s - when Canadians were even more confused about their identity than we are today - and it is also particularly relevant as MacEwen herself mentions its relationship to Canadian identity in the recording.

    Written poem:

    Dark Pines Under Water
    by Gwendolyn MacEwen

    This land like a mirror turns you inward
    And you become a forest in a furtive lake;
    The dark pines of your mind reach downward,
    You dream in the green of your time,
    Your memory is a row of sinking pines.

    Explorer, you tell yourself, this is not what you came for
    Although it is good here, and green;
    You had meant to move with a kind of largeness,
    You had planned a heavy grace, an anguished dream.

    But the dark pines of your mind dip deeper
    And you are sinking, sinking, sleeper
    In an elementary world;
    There is something down there and you want it told.

  3. Hi all,
    Here are two great slam poems. I realize they're popular, and a lot of you may have already seen them, but on the off chance you haven', here they are! And even if you have seen them, I'd say they deserve a second watch!

  4. I can relate to the poem, "I'm Sorry I'm a Christian." Growing up, we moved next door to a Baptist Christian family. Baptists are very conservative and use the KJV version of the bible. We don't party on Friday nights (or any other time) and modesty is a top priority. Our ideal vacations are camping trips revolving around bible studies and youth conferences with heavy preaching. I chose the Christian lifestyle in my early teenage years. During this time I realized that being a Christian and being apart of the world are two different things. Topics such as drinking, homosexuality, music, and others were iffy subjects to talk about. At times, I found myself some what embarrassed of my religion's beliefs. It's hard to agree with everything, even though that is what you are supposed to do. Questioning such beliefs were out of the question. As I grew older, I found myself breaking free from the fences of religion and living for myself rather than for a congregation. I haven't turned back since.


    'Shrinking Women' by Lily Myers is one of my favourite slam poems. She talks about her experiences growing up and her mother's difficult relationship with food, the subconscious ways she was taught to behave differently from her brother. All the issues she talks about are described in a very beautiful way, with sharp contrasts that make you picture exactly what she's talking about. I think my favourite lines are, "I wonder if my lineage is one of women shrinking, making space for the entrance of men into their lives, not knowing how to fill it back up once they leave."

  6. I first discovered Lemon Anderson last year in a creative writing class for poetry. His focus, unlike many spoken word poets, lies almost completely in rhythm, "flow", and general musicality. I find that spoken word poetry, specifically that which tends to lie more to the "music" side (like Lemon Anderson) rather than the "poetry" side, represents the way that musical lyrics are nothing other than a form of poetry. In the case of Lemon Anderson, we see the blending of "hip-hop culture" (pardon the overly simplified stereotype) and poetry.

  7. I was shown this slam poem a couple years ago and it has stuck with me since. Until looking it up just now I didn't realize it was preformed by a Canadian team. The presentation of this poem is very strong. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do!

  8. To be honest, getting into slam poetry was a result of reading countless fanfictions involving the protagonists meeting in slam poetry gatherings during college and becoming room mates/best friends. It felt like an integral part of the intellectual art kid facade. Most of the spoken word poems, I found, were about alcohol, love, and school. It was a hair-raising experience for me because most of the poems felt like confessions and there was just so much courage in getting out there and delivering those words so passionately in front of strangers. So I searched up slam poetry on tumblr/youtube and came across a couple that cut deep. But two, in particular, caught my attention.

    First is Sarah Kay's "If I Should Have a Daughter" (

    I was entranced by her poem because it doesn't try to scream at me with morals and complaints. There was story to the poem, but also rhythm. She created rhythm not only in her pauses and voice, but also through the play on words she puts upon her poem. The performative component of the poem also helps us visualize the speaker's tone and actions---her facial expressions.

    The second is a performance in the BNV 2013 Finals Round: (

    --This was the first slam poetry I watched with more than one speaker, so it holds a special place in my heart like that. Having said that, the performance opens the idea that spoken words is not necessarily a one person thing; you can have multiple voices, united or divided. It also plays a lot with tone and sarcasm, highlighted by the actions and intonations. (Not to mention, it's highly focused on social justice issues, which was a plus for me.)

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  11. Here is a fabulous poem by Shane Koyczan called 'Shoulders'. It explores the importance of mythology and storytelling in learning, as well as personal identity being only one part of greater humanity - two themes I feel are very relevant to our course in regards to myths and masks. The poem also presents an important message about how we as a species must combat climate change together.

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  14. After watching Chris Tse's 'I'm Sorry I'm a Christian' performance, I took a look at some of his other works and came across his Youtube channel:
    The topics he talks about seem really relatable and he does a really good job of connecting his own identity in his poems. Also, being a fan of rap music, I felt some hip-hop influence in his work and I think it makes for a unique sound acoustically. Out of all the slam poets, his poems stood out to me the most and were definitely my favourite.

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  16. Hey all! I came across a great slam poem the other day called “What Teachers Make” by Taylor Mali:

    Taylor Mali comically speaks about the discrimination against teachers in today's society. Nowadays, many individuals will often speak about the teaching profession as if it is something you only “settle” for as if no one would actually want to pursue it. This becomes a problem because those individuals that actually do want to pursue this profession will become discouraged in response to the negative comments. This will make the individuals feel as if they are aiming for a low profession in the working class and hinder their desires to be what they really want to be.

    Mali cleverly responds to this issue by bringing up the fact that teachers do not only teach; teachers lend students a helping hand in striving to become better than they are. Teachers help students become the best they can be and help them realize their true potentials. So no individual should be ashamed in aiming for a profession that they want. What an individual wants to do for the future contributes to their identity and their identity is solely up to them. No other individual should be able to make another feel ashamed for what they are and what they strive to be because others will often only take something that is not in their interest at face value. They will not realize the other aspects of something someone else enjoys. That is why the important thing is that you as an individual are doing what you enjoy and are making a difference.

  17. In search of a spoken word video that I remember seeing years ago, I came across this one:
    Titled, "Can we Auto-Correct Humanity," I think it provides a unique perspective on the newly formed identity of our modern day society, as it is now seemed to be defined as what are known to be 'social networks.' The speaker, Prince Ea, claims these social networks to actually be anti-social networks, as they take away forms of real-time and face-to-face communication.
    In terms of identity, the spoken word piece implies claims that society identifies as being a community that is dictated by social media and online networking, which may take away from the true identity of individuals. That in a sense, with all these touch-screens, we may actually lose touch with others, and ourselves as well as a result.

  18. I am new to slam poetry and was not exposed to this form of poetry until we were shown it in class. I find it interesting to watch and after immersing myself further into the subject, I found I really enjoyed Misfit’s Lullaby by Ikena Onyegbula (& Nathanael Larochetto). This particular piece is about the human condition. It is about loving and being loved until the end of life, which is captured when he says, “will you love me one more time.” This piece is about being completely loved in the past (through good and bad), being accepted completely for all you have been, being respected in the end, and being remembered/loved when you are gone.

    Sing a misfit’s lullaby is about acceptance and complete love.

    The poet talks about how, at the end of life, we see things in a different way, as he says, “a frown upside down, heaven and hell upside down.” He speaks of how at the end, our perceptions change. He reiterates that the most important thing in life is whole and total love and having that love reciprocated. I felt this was very well done!

  19. Additionally, I really liked Liam Coady's "Big Bang Masterpiece." I found it inspiring and encouraging and felt that is holds as a reminder to not get held down by the day to day. You can watch the masterpiece of life go by, or live in the masterpiece’s moment. The poet talks about world beauty, night skies, perfection, god’s creation, talent, inspiration, beat of the heart, rhythm of breaths, and the beat of life. It makes you think about the existence of God; lending hypothetical wondering and origins as you listen.

    This piece calls upon inspiration and awe, as well as an aspiration to be all of what we have within ourselves. Beauty remains within art, within music, within living, within seeing, and within inspiring one another, even when we are unaware. It is contagious to see others unfolding their talent and putting their best on display. Their confidence lends inspirational ties to exploring and finding our own talents and to furthering the practice of these abilities. His poem touches upon how God works on awkward silences and it makes me think that we should listen to every moment - even if it is awkward or not filled with anything at all – because each and every moment counts.

    This poem is a reminder that life is a masterpiece only if we uncover what is out there and seize each moment. Life is a big bang masterpiece, hypothetically created by God, which exposes how this beauty could not have all just happened by chance.

  20. Although this is a short poem and performance, I think it’s very important for a very specific reason: Canadian identity has to be sold to Canadians. The dumb, outdated, borderline offensive stereotypes that we attribute as being inherently Canadian are meaningless. The truth is that a lot of these things we consider to make us “us” were sold to us by governments and corporations which had only their own interests in mind. This poem is really great but it’s made by Canadians for Canadians.

    Canadian identity is an identity formulated from the outside instead from the inside. So this poem concerns two important things: an education for a nation which dismisses its authentic cultural value, and a reinforcement of the archaic process by which the message of Canadianness is transmitted.

    I think that Canadians are pretty ignorant about their own culture. (Just to qualify, I myself am Canadian). I think that this ignorance and complete lack of interest stems from a pedagogical tradition which makes Canadian history, something that should be the foundation of national identity, utterly boring and forgettable in school. Anyways though, I think we fail to see ourselves in an international context in the arts. How come it wasn’t until I took Film Studies 200 here at UBC that I learned that Canadian cinema has one of the best reputations in international film? How about that local Jeff Wall is the most written about contemporary artist in the world? I’m really pleased that Ian Keteku brought attention to Canadian poets’ international reputation. This (in italics) is something to be proud of, not being un-American or the second largest country in the world. I hope that Canadians learn more about our domestic culture because it really is something to be proud of.

  21. Having seen a variety of amazing TED talks, Shane Koyczan’s TED talk is definitely one of my favourites. He creatively uses language, specifically spoken word/slam poetry, to illustrate how language itself can be used in a negative way to hurt and bully others. This really puts into perspective how powerful of a tool words and language can be. Shane shows that language can be used in a positive way, by bringing attention to bullying through his slam poem/TED talk, but can also be one of the most common ways used to hurt others. In relation to this, I particularly liked the part where he talked about the phrase “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me,” because in reality, words can hurt as much as sticks and stones. I thought that by utilizing this phrase also contributed to how Shane was able to show and contrast the positive/negative power of language. Overall, I thought that Shane delivered an extremely powerful piece of slam poetry and demonstrated through words, that words can have just as much impactl as real life objects such as sticks and stones.


    The link I want to share is a video from Ted Talks. It's not related much to the topics we discussed in class, but I still wanted to take this chance and share it with people around me. Many of us have some knowledge about the horrible living conditions in North Korea. However, what the majority of us know is only the tip of the glacier. Luckily there have been North Korean refugees who have learned how to speak english so that they could share some of their experiences with us. The link posted above tells the story of Hyeonseo Lee, a North Korean women who had found freedom for her and her family. She talks briefly about her amazing journey and even in the few minutes of her diluted story, I had shivers going down my spine. Being from South Korea, it stuns me how a mere border separated such vastly different countries. Imagine if I were born a few hundred kilometres north... that thought gives me nightmares, and although it's just a thought, I take the time to be grateful over and over again because at one point, South Koreans and North Koreans were a whole. I could have easily been born with the single fault of being on the wrong side of the border. If that had been the case, chances are I wouldn't be here today.

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  24. A recent favorite poem of mine is called “She Walks With the Wind” by feminist poet Libby Anne. It goes:

    She walks with the wind
    She speaks her voice
    She screams her cry
    Cold and alone
    She seeks the dead
    Her soul torn open
    Her spirit free
    She travels the sidewalks alone in privacy
    She cries out loud but no one cares
    She walks with the wind
    She is empty inside
    Her pages never written
    Her body flows without notice
    The dead she feels
    The living she loses
    Her face pale as sand
    Her hair black as midnight
    She walks with the wind

    I feel that this poem has strong resonation with one losing their voice, defeated in a society that undervalues the importance of women, and admitting weakness against the perils of patriarchy. It is a poem about crying for help, reaching out for worldly solace, and yet receiving none but eerie howls of the wind. While it does not possess direct connection to Canadian identity, it does speak to the forgotten identities of half our race. Women are like wilted roses in a sea of thorns, carved by a multitude of circumstances that undoubtedly and inevitably solidify their destinies. Our memories are erased, our stories shunned, our souls empty. As our 21st century progresses into an era of technological modernity and higher living standards, blatant gender inequality shamelessly persists to saturate simply upon the notion that women are inescapably lesser beings.

    In spite of our definitive geographical location and cultural context, discussion of gender treatment is most applicable across numerous analytical fields. This is particularly because feminist research, to a greater extent, accentuates the reflexive interaction between patriarchal structures, culture and identity in contemporary age. Building upon these fundamental approaches, poets like Libby argue for the existence of constitutionally equal gender treatment between individuals: in their education, in the media, among corporate ladders and within the national political economy. Modern adaptation requests for an alteration of viewpoints and accommodation for Canada’s confident and independent women of the 21st century – this is a bright and different society emerging that must embrace diversification, foster autonomy and acquire cooperative roles than in the past.

  25. DarkMatter's "White Fetish" is, as they explain it, "a satire of white liberals whose 'progressive' politics might actually hide what's underneath".
    Unfortunately I think they're based in New York, so not Canada, but definitely still very relevant in terms of discussion around identity and race, and this poem in particular helped me sort of put my finger on a lot of things that had been bothering me.

  26. Last year I went to my watch my best friend’s little sister perform a slam poem. I did not know much about slam poetry before this performance. I always thought it was a lot of shouting and hand gestures. The friend I was watching, Olivia, had written a slam poem about her dog that had just passed away. It was a very emotional performance that really opened my eyes to the world of slam poetry. It has quickly become one of my favourite kinds of poetry. Slam poetry is something I never though that I would take an interest in, but I love how you can really feel the performers emotions. It makes you feel more connected to the poem than you would if you just read the text on a piece of paper. I often find poetry confusing and hard to interpret but I think slam poetry is easy to understand because the performers say exactly how they feel and show the emotion that goes along with it. Unfortunately, Olivia’s performance is not posted on YouTube, but I have linked some other performances that I enjoy!

  27. This is a poetry slam from last summer called “Somewhere In America” and was featured on talk shows and went viral on the internet. I first saw it on Facebook. It was amazing to see young girls standing up for is wrong in their country and having the courage to address many issues. As with many spoken word poems, there were so many moments where I was just speechless and in awe. It’s amazing how you don’t realize something until an individual talks about it with such passion. This group is part of a youth-centric movement to get younger people involved in poetry and encouraging them to share their voice.

    Here is a link to a video of the poetry slam:

  28. I decided to share a excerpt from a slam poem I am currently writing. It’s still in the process of being written—I’ve only shared the least unedited section—and as a result has not been recorded yet.

    I am just putting my opinion out there but shit the world doesn’t need more photographs of coloured pencils and thickrimmed glasses on a slant with the camera level so the view looks like you’re peeking over the table.

    Or black and white pictures of high heeled shoes or drooling babies
    Or paintings done of meadows redolent of wildflowers and that one scene from little house on the prarie that everyone seems to know

    you know when she’s sitting there with her two pig tails and calico dress knee thick in cattails

    if art is about self expression why is your self expression the same as your instagram feed the conglomeration the distillation of who you follow on tumblr and pinterest what pages your friends on facebook little blue thumbs up “like”
    art is supposed to come from the heart and soul baby, why does your soul look like you borrowed it from a cosmopolitan?

    and yes, I know, art is supposed to be accessible, reachable, understandable in any terms anyone would care to handle but the fact is the first girl who photoshopped a galaxy at 60% opacity on her profile picture was cool now I just wonder if you are so accustomed to having your head in the stars you don’t remember how to bring it back down to earth and maybe do something original for a change

  29. Here's a slam poem that I came across that I found interesting.

  30. This is an extremely recent slam poem but in light of earth day I find it extremely relevant and interesting. Especially here in Canada where we pride ourselves on the beautiful landscape and the municipal government's attempt to make Vancouver the world's 'greenest city' by 2020. Whether it will actually come into fruition or not is another matter entirely.

    I really enjoyed Prince Ea's refreshing and powerful delivery of this slam; here's the link

  31. I'm a huge fan of slam poetry and found that it does a fantastic job of not only adding a performance aspect to poetry, but additionally provides some great discourse on issues ranging from mental health to philosophy. I currently am subscribed to Button Poetry on Youtube and if you are not I would highly recommend it, especially if you take an interest in slam.
    One of my many favourite poems off of the page is by Tucker Bryant, titled "Oreo". The piece does a wonderful job critiquing the subtle mechanism of racism in perceivably harmless comments. There is this assumption of worth being based in "whiteness" which he addresses in an incredibly eloquent manner.

    I've just attached a link for anyone who cares to give it a listen: