6 Emotional Slam Poems That Will Leave You Speechless

Slam poems are the perfect way for poets to present their work the way it should be received. Before we begin, trigger warning for some of topics discussed.

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A poetry slam is a competitive art event in which poets perform spoken word poetry before a live audience and a panel of judges. The genre’s origins can be traced to Chicago in the early 1980s. Since then, groups of volunteers have organized slams in venues across the world. The first National Poetry Slam was held in 1990 and has become an annual event in which teams from cities across the United States compete at events in a host city.

While formats can vary, slams are often loud and lively, with audience participation, cheering, and dramatic delivery. The themes of the poems can vary based on what the speaker wishes to portray, but there are a few rules that need to be followed: no props, no costumes, and no music. Below are some of my favorite slam poetry performances.

Trigger warning: Some topics discussed in the following poems may not be suitable for all audiences.

1. “Explaining My Depression to My Mother” by Sabrina Benaim


Sabrina Benaim was born in 1987 in Toronto, Canada. She was a member of the Canadian championship-winning 2014 Toronto Poetry Slam Team. She is currently a coach of the 2016 Toronto Poetry Slam (TPS) team. When she discovered she had a benign tumor growing in her throat, Benaim took to performance poetry as a way to cope with her health complications, and to raise awareness for issues like anxiety and depression. She has even been nominated for Goodreads Best Poetry 2017 Choice Awards.

She took off on social media through her poem “Explaining My Depression To My Mother.” From there she did a tour of the UK, Australia, the USA, and Canada connecting with many of her fans through her poetry, books, and storytelling which furthered the take-off of her career. Her poetry tackles issues that are relevant in our society like mental health, family, and love.

Beyond her slam poetry performances, Benaim has published two novels. Her first was Depression and Other Magic Tricks (2017) which is a documentation of struggle and triumph, a celebration of daily life and of living. Her second book is I Love You, Call Me Back (2021) which grapples with mental health struggles and the uncertainty of the moment and beyond.

2. “When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny” by Blythe Baird


At only 26 years old, Blythe Baird is already one of the most recognizable and acclaimed names in spoken word poetry. Originally from the northwest suburbs of Chicago, the viral writer has garnered international recognition for her stunning performance pieces that speak urgently and honestly about sexual assault, mental illness, eating disorder recovery, sexuality, and healing from trauma.

Her work has been featured by PBS, Glamour, ELLE, TEDxMinneapolis, The National Eating Disorder Association, Mic, The Huffington Post, Everyday Feminism, Medium, The Mighty, The Body Is Not an Apology, Write Bloody, Button Poetry, A-Plus, and many more.

Baird’s books include If My Body Could Speak (2019) which balances the softness of femininity with the sharpness that girls are forced to become. It includes poems such as “Girl Code 101”, “When the Fat Girl Gets Skinny”, and “Pocket-Sized Feminism” which have been watched by millions online. Her second book is Sweet, Young, & Worried (2022). In this Baird guides us on an expedition embracing queerness, love, loss, mental health, feminism & healing along the way.

3. “Healing” by Nayo Jones


Nayo Jones was born in Philadelphia in 1995 to a black mother and a white father but was mainly raised by her father after her parents divorced when she was young. Her upbringing played a key role in the development of her racial identity as a young adult. Today, she is a spoken word poet and musician. She is a part of the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement.

In her passionate and powerful rendition of her poem, aptly named Healing, she expressed to the audience her feelings about how loving someone else could be a savior to yourself. She spoke about a time when she went to a therapist that told her that she couldn’t really love someone else without practicing self-love first. During the performance, she spoke in a low-medium wavering voice volume and she even cried.

After coming out as a proud queer black woman, Nayo performed her second slam poem, ​“Blaqueer”. In her performance, she expressed how she feels that queer black folks are often overlooked, though they achieve the same things as straight people. They do these things all while facing ongoing discrimination for their sexualities. Some of her other, amazing performances include “Old/New/Always” and “Compass”.

4. “What Kind of Asian Are You” by Alex Dang


Alex Dang, born and raised in Portland, Oregon, started performing poetry at 17 and hasn’t slowed down since. He was on the Portland Poetry Slam nationals team in 2013, 2014, 2015, and 2016, making him the only Asian-American poet in Portland’s history to be on the team four years in a row.

Alex earned his way to become the Eugene Poetry Grand Slam Champion in 2014, 2015, and again in 2017. He has been a TEDx speaker for both the University of Oregon and Reno, Nevada. His work has been featured on Huffington Post, UpWorthy, and EverydayFeminism, and has been viewed over 2 million times on YouTube. Some of his other brilliant performances include “Everything Must Go”, “Times I’ve Been Mistaken for a Girl”, and “The Shotgun Cabinet”, performed with Dante Douglas.

5. “Fight For Love” by Andrea Gibson


Andrea Gibson is an American poet and activist whose poetry focuses on gender norms, politics, social reform, and LGBTQ+ topics. They also often speak about their experience with Chronic Lyme Disease and are currently suffering from ovarian cancer and undergoing chemotherapy. As of now, they are a four-time Denver Grand Slam Champion.

Gibson has written many books. Pole Dancing to Gospel Hymns is a collection of poems that deconstruct the current political climate through stunning imagery and careful crafting. With the same velocity, the poignant and vacillating love poems sweep the air out of the room. It’s word-induced hypoxia. In Pansy, Gibson balances themes of love, gender, politics, sexuality, illness, family, and forgiveness with stunning imagery and a fierce willingness to delve into the exploration of what it means to truly heal. Each turn of the page represents both that which has been forgotten and that which is yet to be released.

The Madness Vase manages to take an even more intimate look at the subjects of family, war, spirituality, gender, grief, and hope. The poems’ topics range from hate crimes to playgrounds, from international conflict to hometowns, and from falling in love to the desperation of loneliness. Lord of the Butterflies is a masterful showcase from the poet whose writing and performances have captured the hearts of millions. Their other amazing books include How Poetry Can Change Your Heart, Take Me With You, and You Better Be Lightning.

6. “Why are Muslims So…” by Sakila and Hawa


Sakila and Hawa are two young Muslim girls performing in protest against the mistreatment of Muslim people. In their poem, they discuss how some people think that if a woman is wearing a hijab, they assume that it’s “an ISIS sign” or how people will move away from them on the sidewalk in fear that they will “taint their milky white innocence”. Such abuse should never be endured, especially by children. This particular performance was done on the holiest day of the year in an expression of their pride in their culture and their families; Eid al-Adha.

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