I was once told that poetry slam is “the monster truck rally of the literary scene.” While it was meant as an insult, I actually loved the description, because what’s cooler than a freaking monster truck rally? This is a list of books done by poets I have competed with in poetry slams we all took turns winning, losing, and organizing.
This list also includes our trailblazers, people who fought so that the publishing world would pay attention to the importance of spoken word poetry. There are some excellent feats of editing here; knowing how to make a page speak is no small miracle, and each of these collections begs to be read out loud.
I’m pleased to say I had to stop at 10 books but could have recommended more. It’s wonderful to see spoken word find a home on the page, while holding the elements of the stage.
Make the World New, by Lillian Allen
All hail Lillian Allen! Okay, so she’s not a competitive poet, but I must first acknowledge Lillian’s presence and influence. Without her persistence of spoken word and dub poetry being important, and deserving of publishing and recognition, I would not have this list to share with you all. It’s so wonderful to have this collection of some of her most electrifying works.
Coconut, by Nisha Patel
I remember this poet just captivating me in 2013; I was like, everyone get out of my way, I need to be as close to this work as possible. In her first full-length work, Nisha Patel paints such rich, colourful, and gloriously defiant poems. Did I mention she started her own press for BIPOC poets, Moon Jelly House? Well, now I have.
The Gospel of Breaking, by Jillian Christmas
Jillian is a beacon of light, a miracle of mirth and deep grief, held in both clenched and soft palms. This collection, excellently edited by Amber Dawn, was long awaited, and deserves much more attention and praise. Don’t miss out on feeling all the feelings, this is a necessary book.
My Soft Response to the Wars, RC Weslowski
When I met RC Weslowski’s work, I felt like I’d found my poetry soulmate. What they do with tragedy, surrealism, satire, and other such honesties continues to give me the chills and the thrills. I am forever blessed to be able to recommend this glorious book from Write Bloody Press, a publishing house dedicated to spoken word poetry.
Black Abacus, by Ian Keteku
Ian had already won the world title for slam poetry competition when I entered the scene, and in his work I found a home in the ridiculous, in the experimental, and in the deep bravery of knowing a poem can hold a multitude of emotions, with equal regard and opportunity for creative genius. Another triumph of a book from Write Bloody North.
Bending the Continuum, by Dane Swan
When I met Dane, he was finishing the editing process of his first book with Guernica. This was one of the first former competitive poets from the slam scene who got a book deal. It’s just so gorgeous and really his debut enriched the scene so much. These poems are music in my head always. Read them out loud – I promise it will sound like the best jazz.
I Place You Into the Fire, by Rebecca Thomas
Rebecca is a wonderful spoken word artist who brings so much pride in her advocacy and love for her Mi’kmaw roots. Her poetry is rooted in pride, humour, and advocacy. A former poet laureate for Halifax, she is always astounding with her words, her energy and her talent.
A Selected History of Soul Speak, by Andrea Thompson
Andrea Thompson is another champion of not only her incredible work, but of so many of us who wish to rise past the stage. In her most recent book, she explores the two dichotomies, as well as painting beautiful and difficult poetry filled with life, faith, and undeniable sound. An extra shout-out for Andrea who was my editor – she really knows how to make a poem leap how it should.
Divine Animal, by Brandon Wint
If the world of competitive poetry has a soul, it lives inside the heart of this poet. A curator, conjorer, and deeply grounded creator, Brandon’s debut poetry collection moves from the transatlantic slave trade to our tenuous relationship with the earth. His poetry and presence carries such a deep joy, and love, it’s impossible not to be moved by his work.
it was never going to be okay, by jaye simpson
jaye has created a powerful work of art in her debut poetry collection. She speaks of survival, of being an Oji-Cree Saulteaux trans woman, and Indigiqueer pride. There is a fire to her words, to her presentation, and I really adored the ways her work was edited to bring her stage presence into the text.
Re-Origin of the Species, by Alessandra Naccaratto
Alessandra’s most recent gorgeous work stays in my bones. I see it in the springtime, in the way pollen can look like Superman saving the world. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of witnessing one of her live performances, you’ll know the room becomes magic, an atmosphere of poetry that she levitates through. The same can be said for her work on the page.
These books are not only a lesson in how a poem can stand on the page as a stage, but also to this incredible oral art form. Invigorate your libraries, your classrooms, your own selves with these amazing works.
With kitchen-table candour and empathy, Charlie Petch's debut collection of poems offers witness to a decades-long trans/personal coming of age, finding heroes in unexpected places.
Why I Was Late fuses text with performance, brings a transmasculine wisdom, humour, and experience to bear upon tailgates, spaceships, and wrestling rings. Fierce, tender, convention re-inventing? Petch works hard. And whether it's as a film union lighting technician, a hospital bed allocator, a Toronto hot dog vendor, or a performer/player of the musical saw, the work is survival. Heroes are found in unexpected places, elevated by both large and small gestures of kindness, accountability and acceptance. No subject — grief, disability, kink, sexuality, gender politics, violence — is off limits.
A poet so good at drag they had everyone convinced that they were a woman for the first forty years of their life, Petch has somehow brought the stage and its attendant thrills into the book. Better late than. And better.
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