LGBTQ Spoken Word and Slam Poets

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Poetry has a long history as an oral and performance tradition, dating back to the Greeks if not before. Spoken poetry has the power to engage and inspire a community, and topics can cover the broad spectrum of social, cultural, economic and political issues.

Beginning in the 1980s, this traditional aspect of poetry took on new life with the birth of poetry slams, or public competitions. It is believed the first structured poetry slam took place in 1986 in Chicago and was organized by construction worker Marc Smith. The first national poetry slam in the United States occurred in 1990 in San Francisco. The movement took particular hold among young poets and those in marginalized or minority communities as a means to express opinions, convey political statements, or speak up on social issues. There is a broad range of styles and cultural traditions, but many reflect the rythmic style of the hip hop scene in music.

Today, official poetry slams are sanctioned around the world by a regulating non-proft body - Poetry Slam Inc. (founded in 1997). There is also a World Cup of Poetry Slams.

An appealing trait of a poetry slam is the injection of theatrics into the performance of original work by the poet (though props, costumes and music are prohibited). This stage performance reflects the unique personality and enthusiasm of the presenting poet or poets. These presentations are usually judged and voted on by the audience or by a panel of five judges selected from the audience.

As the popularity of this style of poetry presentation increases, so too does the profile of the poets. Today, there are several spoken word and slam poets who have received national poetry awards, and there are academic courses on the subject at higher level educational institutions. Many of these poets' YouTube posted videos approach 1 million viewers.

LGBTQ participation in the art is widespread. The content often reflects the social and personal experiences of the poet, or the marginalization and challenges faced by the community in a broad social context. Poetry slams are a further means for the community to express its opinions and voice, and they offer many youths a channel to participate in activism on the various issues faced by LGBTQ individuals.

We have identified a number of high profile LGBTQ poets who are notable for their participation in poetry slams. The vast majority hail from the United States. Read their fascinating biographies by simply clicking on their name.


Great Britain


United States

See Also

Further Reading/Research

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