If you’re looking to find the Golden State’s local rhythm, look no further. Los Angeles offers a handful of impressive poetry slams for those looking for a friendly competition. With slams geared toward high school students, hip-hop artists, Filipino poets and more, slam fans are sure to find a place to network, compete, and thrive.
If you haven’t slammed before, here’s a quick overview of how it works: poets usually have three minutes to perform an original piece (no props, costumes, or music allowed). In a typical slam, five judges score the performance on a scale from 0-10. The highest and lowest ratings are dropped, then the middle three scores are added to give each poet a score from 0-30 points.
Most slams last multiple rounds, and involve the elimination of lower-scoring poets with each round. A standard competition might begin with eight poets in the first round, four in the second, and two in the last. However, some slams do not eliminate poets at all.
Sometimes a slam will offer a sacrificial poet before the competition begins. This poet is not competing in the slam, but they are scored so the judges can calibrate their scoring scales. This prevents the first poet in the competition from receiving an unduly high or low score.
With that out of the way, let’s get into the list:
Located at the Greenway Court Theatre, Da Poetry Lounge (DPL) has been operating since 1998. DPL hosts an open mic every Tuesday from 9-12 pm, which has become the largest weekly open mic in the U.S. All ages are welcome to participate. Every third Tuesday, their open mic gets upgraded to a full-on slam. Points aside, their ultimate goal is to create a communal space for people to be heard.
Get Lit is an arts-education nonprofit that aims to advance literacy by offering curriculum to local schools. Their curriculum is aligned to Common Core Standards in both English and Visual and Performing arts. Plus, it’s made to be taught by the school’s very own English and Drama teachers.
As part of their mission, Get Lit hosts an annual three-day slam festival at the Los Angeles Theater Company. Here, youth from more than 50 schools perform classic and response poems. The finals feature the top four teams. Judges have included highly-regarded poets like Sam Sax, Olivia Gatwood, Rudy Francisco, and more.
Hosted by Sunday Jump and Say Word L.A., this annual poetry slam takes place at the Filipino Cultural Center in L.A.’s Historic Filipinotown. The slam aims to provide a platform for poets to showcase the variety of voices and points of view among Filipinos and Filipino-Americans today. First place wins $500, second wins $250, and third wins $100 with miscellaneous prizes. If you’d like your spoken poetry fix more than once a year, Sunday Jump also hosts an open mic every first Sunday of the month.
The Moth offers a series of slams for poets interested in narrative storytelling. Story Slam participants are expected to prepare a five-minute story according to the theme for the night. Be sure to check their website as both the theme and venue change for each event. With broad themes ranging from animals to strength to plans gone awry, there’s plenty of room to be creative and feel inspired with your rhythm, flow, and subject matter.
The LA Get Down Festival (formerly InkSlam)
What better way is there to celebrate national poetry month than with a festival? Previously named InkSlam, this newly revamped poetry festival offers two full weeks of hip-hop, spoken word, and slam poetry events. Hosted by the Greenway Arts Alliance and Da Poetry Lounge, the festival draws in poets from all across the nation. In their slam competitions, 12 poets will compete over three rounds—resulting in one champion. First place receives $1000, second place receives $300, and third receives $200.
With or without cash prizes on the table, poetry slams are a great way to meet other poets, test your skills, and boost your confidence in performing. And even if you don’t plan to perform, joining the audience is an unforgettable experience. Between the performers, the judges, and the audience, the energy can be electrifying and inspiring for everyone in the room.