8 Brilliant Slam Poetry Performances on YouTube

Rapper and performance poet Disraeli

Popular culture doesn't exactly give a glowing impression of performance poetry. I remember being twelve and watching So I Married an Axe Murderer, and thereafter thinking that performance poetry could only be delivered by oddballs to soft jazz music and contain lines like, "She stole my heart and my cat." It gets worse: if you believe 90s teen flick She's All That, even a bone-headed jock like Freddie Prinze Jr* can get onstage and freestyle, because spoken word events are a series of pseudo-profound, incoherent ramblings.

Happily, as anyone who has been to an event will testify, performance poetry is powerful, entertaining and often enrapturing, and as you'll see from our Word War case study, it has the potential to change your pupils' perceptions of poetry. And in Scotland there are plenty of top poets and performance nights to choose from, from the wonderful Rally and Broad to the unforgettable Loud Poets. We've got verse on the brain just now with our upcoming event on National Poetry Day, and so we've decided to compile seven of our favourite performances from the world wide web for your viewing pleasure. 

Hollie McNish - Mathematics

Hollie is a prolific voice with lots to say about current affairs. There's a playlist you can check out here, but Mathematics is a great one to start out with. This thought-provoking poem brings to account those who jump to convenient and damaging conclusions about immigration to the UK. 


Kate Tempest - Icarus

Kate is a rapper and performance poet who loves to draw on classical mythology, and this poem is a prime example of how she can capture the universal truths of a story we all know and love.


Benjamin Zephaniah - Talking Turkeys

Benjamin Zephaniah is a man of many talents - a celebrated poet, writer and musician. He's done so much politically and culturally important stuff that it seems a little bit wrong to feature something whimsical, but Talking Turkeys is wonderfully goofy and can't fail to raise a smile. This isn't the best quality version, but the live audience and off the cuff additions are a great enhancement.


Nova Venerable - Apartment on Austin

The documentary Louder than a bomb is a seminal exploration of how language can free people from emotional shackles. The film follows the preparation of four teenage contestants taking part in an annual high school poetry slam in Chicago, and Nova Venerable's poetry about her family will leave you breathless. This poem is about Nova's absent father, and channels tenderness and anger often in the same breath.


Dizraeli - Little Things

Ok, this one isn't on YouTube - it's right here, right now on our website. During our Authors Live Poetry Slam in 2012, rapper Dizraeli wowed the audience with his touching, witty and sharp poetry. We'd obviously recommend giving the whole thing a watch and experiencing the compelling performances of Elspeth Murray and Paul Lyalls, but this poem by Dizraeli is worth singling out for its emotional depth and inspiring message. The poem comes in around 17:18 on the video.


Jenny Lindsay - No Ball Games

Jenny Lindsay is a Scottish poet known for her dry humour, social commentary and storytelling. Jenny is one half of the aforementioned Rally and Broad: together with her fellow poet Rachel McCrum, she organises a host of regular literary events in Scotland. This poem is a small snapshot, barely an incident, but it's as powerful and thought-provoking as the rest of the poems on this list. Disclaimer: there are one or two swears, so watch it before you show it to your pupils! If you want to see more of Jenny, she'll be appearing in our Authors Live event alongside Jackie Kay on National Poetry Day and reading a brand new poem, so get yourself signed up to watch.



Polarbear - Jessica

Polarbear is the stage name of Steven Camden, one of the UK's most respected spoken word artists. This poem takes us back to our awkward teen forays into love before spreading its wings and moving into Steven's relationship with his wife and son. The only school-unfriendly bit is right at the start, so here's the link to click if you want to video to start after this bit.



Miko Berry - This is Your Day

Rounding us off with something inspirational and uplifting is 2014 Scottish Slam Champion Miko Berry, whose honesty, vulnerability and humour have won fans across the globe (he was fourth in the World Poetry Slam Championship in 2014). Miko is famed for his poem 150 seconds in which he pulls off the daring stunt of performing a poem which takes, well, 150 seconds (the exact time allowed for a slam round). However, we've picked this one because it shows Berry at his affecting best. He'll also be appearing in our Authors Live event on National Poetry Day!

Want to introduce your pupils to slam poetry, and get them writing their own? Check out this resource and case study package, where South Lanarkshire teachers Peter Kelly and Helen MacKenzie guide you through the running of a Word War!

Your pupils can publish a poem on our website for our Journeys writing campaign. Click here to find out more about the campaign and access teaching resources with lots of ideas!

*meaning, his character in She's All That. I have no idea what Freddie Prinze Jr is like in real life.