These Button Poetry Slam Poets Light Up Classrooms

If you ask the average person what they learned about poetry in school, they might remember suffering through a few 17th-century English poets, but poetry in the classroom doesn’t have to be stuffy. Modern poetry can give students a chance to be creative, break the rules, and express themselves. In a fun and open environment, students can think of poetry as an art class with words. They can get creative with language, rhyme, and meter; they can take delight in odd, pretty, or unusual sounds, rhythms, and even puns. Button Poetry knows this better than most.

Button Poetry seeks to showcase the power and diversity of voices in our community. Founded in 2011, they have filmed and posted thousands of high quality slam poetry videos over the last decade. They also hold routine poetry tournaments where students can gather and perform slam poetry individually or as teams, similar to other school competitions. By encouraging and broadcasting the best and brightest performance poets of today, Button Poetry hopes to broaden poetry’s audience, to expand its reach, and develop a greater level of cultural appreciation for the art form.

Button Poetry could be such a great asset to the classroom. Here is a list of classroom-friendly slam poem performances.

1. Phil Kaye–Repetition. Phil Kaye is a Japanese-American poet. His work has been featured in settings ranging from The New Yorker to the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, and viewed millions of times online. He has performed his original work in twenty countries and was invited to open for His Holiness The Dalai Lama for the celebration of his 80th birthday. A former teacher of weekly poetry workshops in maximum security prisons, Phil was the head coordinator of Space in Prisons for the Arts and Creative Expression (SPACE). Phil is a National Poetry Slam finalist, and his book, Date & Time, was published in 2018 by Button Poetry.

2. Sabrina Benaim–Explaining My Depression To My Mother. Sabrina Benaim is a Canadian writer, performance artist, and slam poet. Benaim was a winner of the 2014 Toronto Poetry Slam. She took off on social media through her performance of this moving poem, and from there she did a tour of The UK, Australia, USA and Canada connecting with many of her fans through her poetry, books, and storytelling. Her poetry tackles relevant issues like mental health, family, and love, and more. She is well known for performing on the Button Poetry YouTube series.

3. Aja Monet–The First Time. Aja Monet is an American contemporary poet, writer, lyricist and activist. She was the youngest ever winner of the Nuyorican Poets Café Grand Slam Champion at the age of 19 in 2007. Monet is also known for her activist work, and has been an active participant of the SayHerName campaign, which has highlighted police brutality against black women. She is a contributor to the 2019 anthology New Daughters of Africa (edited by Margaret Busby), with poems “about love and intimacy as a primary aspect of freedom fighting”. Monet was nominated for an NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Literary Work – Poetry for her collection My Mother Was a Freedom Fighter. A starred review in Publishers Weekly praised Monet’s “stunning and evocative language” as she “strikingly illustrates the passage from girlhood to womanhood”.

4. Jomar Valentin–Layering. Jomar Valentin is the current Slam Master of Austin Poetry Slam. In over 20 years since Austin Poetry Slam was established, Jomar is the first ever POC to hold the title of Slam Master as well as the first queer person to be named into the position. Jomar’s slam roots were planted in 2009 as a member of the Austin Neo Soul National Poetry Slam Team. He was a returning member in 2010 when Neo Soul finished in the Top 4 of that year’s Nationals. He was on Neo’s team again in 2015 finishing in 3rd place at National Group Piece finals in Oakland, CA.

5. Sierra De Mulder–Today Means Amen. Sierra DeMulder is an internationally touring performance poet, mental health advocate, two-time National Poetry Slam champion, and a four-time published author (The Bones Below, New Shoes on a Dead Horse, We Slept Here, Today Means Amen). She is the co-host of the relationship advice podcast Just Break Up and lives in Minneapolis with her dog. After attending a performance, one student said, “[Sierra DeMulder] is brilliant, inspiring, and hilarious. All of her poems can touch anyone in a way. Sat front row, and left with a new perspective.”

6. Imani Cezanne–Protest. Imani Cezanne is a Black writer, performer and tamale connoisseur living in Oakland, CA. In March she became the 2020 Woman of the World Poetry Slam Champion for the second time and in July of the same year she was named a finalist for the 2020 Ruth Lilly and Dorothy Sargent Rosenberg Fellowship. As a two time Pushcart Prize Nominee, Imani has forthcoming work in Nimrod, Fugue, Red Wheelbarrow and POETRY magazine, among others. While all are welcome to enjoy her work, Imani writes for Black people, Black readers and is committed to the liberation of all oppressed people.

7. Hieu Minh Nguyen–Traffic Jam. Hieu Minh Nguyen is a queer Vietnamese American poet and performer based out of Minneapolis. Recipient of 2017 NEA fellowship for poetry, Hieu is a Kundiman fellow, a poetry editor for Muzzle Magazine, and an MFA candidate at Warren Wilson College. His work has appeared in PBS Newshour, POETRY Magazine, Gulf Coast, BuzzFeed, Poetry London, Nashville Review, Indiana Review, and more. His debut collection of poetry, This Way to the Sugar (Write Bloody Publishing, 2014) was named a finalist for both the Lambda Literary Award and the MN Book Award. His second collection of poetry, Not Here, is forthcoming with Coffee House Press in 2018.

Allison Green
Boston Tutoring Services

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