14 Best Slam Poets to Watch for Your Next Inspiration

Check out our list of the best slam poets as you learn more about this engaging live-performance art form. Each one is sure to inspire!

Slam poetry combines poetry and performance into one art form. It originated in Chicago in the 1980s with Marc Kelly Smith, a local poet and construction worker. Smith felt that people had lost the desire to watch poetry readings and wanted to bring a love for poetry back to the general public. He achieved his goal by creating a weekly poetry event he called the poetry slam and allowing anyone to participate. The original poetry slam gave poets a place to perform for a panel of judges, adding the aspect of competition to the world of poetry.

The idea of the famous poetry slam took off, and today there are competitions worldwide on university campuses and national competition venues. The poems rarely rhyme but use performance and cadence to create the idea of poetry. These competitions are designed like open mike poetry events, allowing poems on all topics and in most formats. Some of the most prestigious competitions include the World Poetry Slam, National Underground Poetry Slam, and the International Poetry Slam.

This genre of poetry is sometimes called spoken word poetry, and it is popular in North America, Japan, and many parts of Europe. These poets often take on cultural and political topics and include humor or self-reflection. Many famous names in poetry have come from the poetry slam world, including several poet laureates. If you are ready to discover slam poetry, consider watching some of the performances of these talented artists online. Here are the best ones to explore as you learn this artistic style.

1. Alex Dang

Alex Dang is a slam poetry poet from Oregon who started performing at 17 in high school. He is the only Asian-American poet in Portland history on the Portland Poetry Slam national team four years in a row. In 2014, 2015, and 2017 he was the Eugene Poetry Grand Slam Champion and a successful TEDx speaker. With work featured on HuffingtonPost, UpWorthy, and EverydayFeminisim, as well as over 2 million views on YouTube, he is quite successful as a poet.

Dang’s video of his slam poemWhat Kind of Asian Are You?” a satire about race, has garnished millions of views. Many of his poems, including “Ode to Orange Chicken,” focus on racial concerns. Are You Proud of Me is a collection of poems he published in 2016.

“I, too, have been described by
my ancestors as too sweet,
dumbed down, inauthentic, made
to satiate American bellies and
melt on the same tongues who
spat in our food, called it uncivilized,
barbaric, dirty, cooked from rats,
off strapped backs of dynamite.”

Alex Dan, “Ode to Orange Chicken”

2. Anis Mojgani, 1977 –

Anis Mojgani has written five poetry books, including In the Pockets of Small Gods, published in 2018, and an opera libretto. He is currently the Poet Laureate of Oregon and won the National Poetry Slam twice. He also won the International World Cup Poetry Slam and has residencies at several prestigious writing schools. He is a well-respected poet and performer with poems published in the New York Times, Forklift Ohio, and Bat City Review. In 2011, his book The Feather Room was a National Book Award nominee. That same year, Mojgani was invited to perform his “Shake the Dustpoem at Brown University.

“This is for the fat girls. This is for the little brothers. This is for the schoolyard wimps. This is for the childhood bullies who tormented them. This is for the former prom queen. This is for the milk crate ball players. This is for the nighttime cereal eaters. This is for the retired elderly Wal-Mart storefront door greeters. Shake the dust.”

Anis Mojgani, “Shake the Dust”

3. Denice Frohman

Denice Frohman
Poet Denice Frohman

Denice Frohman is a New York City poet and performer who performs poetry focusing on race, gender, and sexuality. Her multicultural background and representation in the LGBTQ+ community. In 2013, she won the Women of the World Poetry Slam Championship and was a 2014 CantoMundo Fellow.

Frohman frequently partners with Dominique Christina as an award-winning spoken word poetry team, and the two have toured often. Frohman’s work has appeared in The New York Times, The BreakBeat Poets, and ESPNW. One of her poems, “The Art of Shooting in the Dark,” showcases life as a Latina growing up in a multicultural community.

“We were nocturnal players,
Bats in ball, & ever since Don Pedro said
There are Puerto Ricans on the moon
The night is my cousin & the clustered stars
My cousin.”

Denice Frohman, “The Art of Shooting in the Dark”

4. Harry Baker, 1992 –

Harry Baker, a younger player in the list of best slam poets, won the London and UK Poetry Championships. At age 20, he won the World Slam Poetry Competition, making him the youngest to carry the award. In 2015 he published The Sunshine Kid, a collection of his poems. In addition to writing and performing slam poems, he performs as a battle rapper and is half of the “Harry and Chris” duo who performs on the Russell Howard Hour television show in the UK. His poemPaper People” showcases his ability to play with words and sounds to make exciting poems.

“I like people.
I’d like some paper people.
They’d be purple paper people.
Maybe pop-up purple paper people.
Proper pop-up purple paper people.”

Harry Baker, “Paper People”

5. Phil Kaye

Phil Kaye is a Japanese-American poet and filmmaker. As a spoken word artist, he has toured internationally, and in 2015 he opened for the Dalai Lama’s 80th birthday party. Kaye attended Brown University, where he coached the Brown University National College Poetry Slam team. He also received the National College Poetry Slam award for his poem “Pushing the Art Forward.”

In 2011 he published A Light Bulb Symphony, his first poetry collection. The themes of these poems include family life and ancestry. He also published Date & Time in 2018, which hit the Amazon bestseller list. Kaye frequently pairs up with Sarah Kay when he tours to create duo performances.

“My grandmother’s mind was a ballroom. Inside were her memories. Each one dressed for a celebration.”

Phl Kaye, “My Grandmother’s Ballroom”

6. Marc Kelly Smith, 1949 –

Marc Kelly Smith
Poet Marc Kelly Smith

Marc Kelly Smith founded the Uptown Poetry Cabaret, and in some ways, he became the Father of Slam Poetry with the launch of performance poetry at Chicago’s Green Mill Tavern in 1987. He has performed over 2,000 times at everything from nightclubs to universities. Smith has collaborated with Mark Eleveld to publish two best-selling compilations of spoken word poetry, Spoken Word Revolution and Spoken Word ReduxGround Zero: A Collection of Chicago Poems is a popular anthology of his works, showcasing his role in starting the poetry slam phenomenon.

“This is for the lonely ones,
The older ones,
Passeb d on now
Silenced by speeding time
Less significant than once before.”

Marc Kelly Smith, “For the Lonely Ones”

7. Neil Hilborn, 1989 –

Neil Hilborn is a performance poet from Houston, TX. Hilborn earned a bachelor’s degree in creative writing from Macalester College, and he turned toward performance poetry to deal with mental health conditions, including OCD and bipolar disorder. He started writing spoken word poetry in college and joined his college’s slam poetry team, which won first at the College National Poetry Slam.

In 2012 he joined Dylan Garrity and Hieu Nguyen to participate in The Good News Poetry Tour. The video of his poem “OCD” was one of the first poems on Button Poetry’s YouTube channel, and it has over 62 million views to date. Clatter is his first book of poetry, published in 2012, followed by Our Numbered Days, published in 2014. This book contains the “OCDpoem, one of his most famous pieces.

“When you have Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, you don’t really get quiet moments.
Even in bed, I’m thinking:
Did I lock the doors? Yes.
Did I wash my hands? Yes.
Did I lock the doors? Yes.
Did I was my hands? Yes.”

Neil Hilbron, “OCD”

8. Shane Koyczan, 1976 –

Shane Koyczan
Photo of Shane Koyczan performing

Canadian spoken artist Shane Koyczan is from Penticton and co-founded Tons of Fun University, a spoken word trio. The prolific poet has several poetry collections works in publication, including Visiting Hours, Stickboy, and Our Deathbeds Will Be Thirsty. “We are More” was commissioned by the Canadian Tourism Commission and was performed at Canada Day festivities in Ottawa in 2007, making him a well-known name. Koyczan also performed at the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics.

“When defining Canada, you might list some statistics
You might mention our tallest building, or biggest lake
You might shake a tree in the fall and call a red leaf Canada.”

Shane Koyczan, “We are More”

9. Sarah Kay, 1988 –

Sarah Kay
Poet Sarah Kay

Sarah Kay is a New York poetry writer and performer who is the co-director of Project VOICE, a group founded in 2004 to help bring spoken word poetry art to the world. Kay holds a Master of Arts from Brown University and an honorary doctorate from Grinnell College. She participated in the National Poetry Slam in 2006 at 14, making her the youngest competitor. Though she didn’t win, this experience brought her to the forefront of the industry.

Kay has performed at many competitions throughout the United States, and she hosts the Sincerely X podcast. In 2014, she published No Matter the Wreckage, a poetry collection featuring 61 of her poems and illustrations by Sophia Janowitz. It includes “B,” one of her most famous works.

“If I should have a daughter, instead of mom, she’s going to call me Point B,
because that way she knows that no matter what happens,
at least she can always find her way to me.”

Sarah Kay, “B”

10. Taylor Mali, 1965 –

Taylor Mali
Poet Taylor Mali

Based in Brooklyn, Taylor Mali has traveled extensively, teaching spoken word workshops and performing his poetry. Mali received a bachelor’s in English from Bowdoin College and a master’s in Creative Writing from Kansas State University. To date, he has been on seven National Poetry Slam teams, and four of those teams won the competition.

The poet has authored two books, What Learning Leaves and The Last Time as We Are, and has four CDs of his performed works. In 2007, Mali was invited to participate in the SlamNation documentary, and he again was part of the Slam Planet documentary in 2006. In addition to writing and performing poetry, he teaches workshops on the topic.

“First of all, it’s a big responsibility,
especially in a city like New York.
So think long and hard before deciding on love.”

Taylor Mali, “How Falling in Love is Like Owning a Dog”

11. Rudy Francisco, 1982 –

Rudy Francisco is an African-American poet from San Diego. One of the best-known names in spoken word poetry, he regularly tours the nation to share his art. Known for his poetry that talks about the challenges Black people face and social critiques, he uses humor to illustrate these challenges in an understandable way. Getting Stitches was his first poetry book, which he published in 2013, and he followed that with Scratch in 2014 and No Gravity in 2015.

Many of his poems feature personal narratives to show real-life challenges he has faced. On his tours, he has performed with Gladys Knight, Musiq Soul Child, and Jill Scott, among others. Francisco was the 2009 National Underground Poetry Slam Champion and the 2010 Individual World Poetry Slam Champion. One of his poems, “My Honest Poem,” is autobiographical.

“I was born on July 27th; that makes me a Leo.
I don’t really know what that means.
I am 5 foot 6,
I weigh 145 pounds, I don’t know how to swim,
And I’m a sucker for a girl with a nice smile and clean sneakers.”

Rudy Francisco, “My Honest Poem”

12. Elizabeth Acevedo, 1988 –

Elizabeth Acevedo
Photo of poet Elizabeth Acevedo

Dominican-American poet Elizabeth Acevedo is one of the top young poets of the modern age. The Poetry Foundation named her the Young People’s Poet Laureate in 2022 as a tribute to her work. In addition to poetry, she writes young adult novels, including The Poet X, a New York Times bestseller, and the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature winner. The book also won a Carnegie Medal. Because she often writes on feminism, the anthology Women of Resistance: Poems for a New Feminism contains many of her poems centered on the needs of women.

“When the bottle of hot sauce shattered in the kitchen
He stood in the doorframe, shook his head at the mess.
Not worried if I was injured,
Mostly curious at what else it was I’d broken.”

Elizabeth Acevedo Poems, “After He’s Decided to Leave”

13. Saul Williams, 1972 –

American spoken word artist Saul Williams put together hip-hop and meditation in 1998 to create what would turn into slam poetry in today’s world. Bling, his book, and his album share the wisdom of the East with the world of hip-hop in a way that works. Williams was born in New York and received his undergraduate degree in acting and philosophy from Morehouse College. While in college, he transcribed popular hip-hop lyrics into monologues for his theater class, which began what would eventually become the forefront of slam poetry performances.

In 1995 he started actively reading poetry and was the Grand Slam Champion at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe the following year. Lions Gate awarded him the lead role in the film Slam, which brought slam poetry to light even more. Williams is also a talented musician, with Martyr Loser King as one of his most recent albums. In 1999 she published the book She, a collection of works about love.

“I drew her
like a bath
then sat and soaked
watching the bubbles
as a ring
around the tub
gave us the age
of trees.”

Saul Williams, ”She”
  • Williams, Saul (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 128 Pages - 06/01/1999 (Publication Date) - MTV Books (Publisher)

14. Ed Mabrey

A Black slam poet from Charlotte, Ed Mabrey regularly performs and writes about problems within the American justice system, particularly concerning Black people. Some of his notable poems include “Dear White People” and “Pursuit of Happyness.” He is considered the greatest poetry slam poet with four World Championships, six Regional Championships, and over 500 wins. He has brought much attention to slam poetry as an NAACP Image Award Nominee and the 2019 APCA Spoken Word Artist of the Year. Many of his poems focus on removing the stigma from the world of mental health. Several of his works are in the anthology entitled Hieroglyph.

“Dear White People,
Stop telling me about this colorblind society you allegedly live in. Telling me you don’t see race, is the racist drivel I hope you choke on. Telling me you respect me, you don’t see my color is like saying you have to pretend I’m not black in order to respect me.”

Ed Mabrey, “Dear White People”
  • Mabrey, Ed (Author)
  • English (Publication Language)
  • 84 Pages - 04/24/2018 (Publication Date) - Grumble Press LLC (Publisher)

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