10 LA Slam Poets You Need To Know

Poetry lounge | © Pete/Flickr
Poetry lounge | © Pete/Flickr
Photo of Feli Nicole Oliveros
17 October 2016

Whether you know it as slam poetry or spoken word, the popularity of performance poetry in Los Angeles has exploded over the past decade. These ten LA-based artists range from veterans who’ve performed on Def Poetry Jam to fresher faces putting their own spin on the art form. They say that art imitates life, and these slam poets do it pretty well.

Alyesha Wise

From Camden, New Jersey, Wise is a strong supporter of human rights, weaving feminism and African-American culture into her pieces. Her role as co-founder and co-host of ‘The Pigeon Presents: The Philadelphia Poetry Slam,’ along with a speaking engagement on the TEDx Talk series, are just two entries on her long list of accomplishments.

Below, Wise reclaims her heritage in ‘Last Name.’ She poses the question ‘What’s in a name?’ and puts her assertive rhythm on display as she answers it for herself. When she takes a stand for her beliefs onstage, she’s an intimidating figure.

Beau Sia

Sia’s poetry style is loud, boisterous, and over the top: not what you might expect from a spoken word artist. He’s also appeared on all six seasons of Def Poetry Jam and is the winner of two National Poetry Slams and a Tony Award, so he’s definitely been doing something right.

Nothing is off-limits when it comes to his satirical poems. ‘I’m So Deep’ pokes fun at the stereotype of the profound poet and goes to show that slam poetry doesn’t always have to be serious and cut and dried for it to speak the truth.

Dante Basco

Probably best known for his role as Rufio in the movie Hook, Basco is also an accomplished poet and the founder of Hollywood’s Da Poetry Lounge. His poems, like Nikki and Last Time I Fell in Love, capture the spirit of young passionate love and deliver honest reactions to everyday situations.

You can get a sense of Basco’s fluid vocal rhythm in ‘Nikki’ – at times it’s smooth and sensual, other times it’s quick and hard-hitting. The way he constantly changes up his delivery makes for an attention-grabbing performance from start to finish.

Donny Jackson

Jackson is a writer, and a prolific one at that. He has an impressive resume boasting of his time as a speech writer for President Clinton, a producer and director of several TV shows, a playwright, and, of course, a spoken word artist well known for his technique.

Ella is about Jackson’s experience of his mother’s death. His deep, steady voice is a contrast to the high emotion of the event; the result leaves chills down your spine.

Kat Magill

Also known as Simply Kat, Kat Magill took home several slam championships before retiring from the scene in 2009. In her poems, she puts on a tomboyish sense of bravado and her onstage presence is a relentless driving force you’d be hard-pressed to take your eyes off of.

Watch Mistress, written from the perspective of ‘the other woman’ in a relationship. Magill allows herself be tough and vulnerable at the same time, using destructive metaphors to carry her emotion.

Poetri Smith

If you like poems that tip-toe the line between spoken word and comedy, Poetri just might be your thing. He was a regular on the TV series Def Poetry Jam performing candid pieces like Krispy Kreme and Dating Myself, proving that acting and comedic timing are just as important as words in his slam pieces. And, he has a Tony Award to prove it.

While Dating Myself andKrispy Kreme are both light-hearted poems that are easy to laugh at, Poetri uses his physical image in ‘Monsters in My Stomach’ to tackle issues of self-development in a touching way.


Combining spoken word with American Sign Language sounds a bit ironic, but John Rives easily pulls off the feat in Sign Language. He wears many hats, including that of a teacher, an author, and a TV show host, but perhaps one of his best known roles is him performing a special version of his piece ‘Mockingbird’ for the TED Talk series in 2006.

Mockingbird is known for its adaptability, mostly because Rives puts on a different performance of it every time. He outdoes himself with A Mockingbird Remix of TED 2006, though. Always the thoughtful artist, he incorporates the biggest sentiments, quotes, and ideas of that year for a routine well-remembered.

Shihan the Poet

An transplant from New York’s Lower East Side, Shihan is the first and only poet to have one of his pieces named ‘Download of the Week’ on iTunes. With poems like This Type Love and Flashy Words in his repertoire, it’s no wonder he’s landed deals with companies like Adidas and Sprite. When he’s not organizing slams like the Pan African Film Festival Spoken Word Fest and Inkslam, you can find him on Tuesday nights co-hosting Da Poetry Lounge, the largest weekly open mic lounge in the country.

WatchThis Type Love to study his technique. His rapid-fire delivery gives the audience just enough time to let the words sink in, while his perspective on love is both refreshing and relatable.

Tonya Ingram

Ingram’s thoughtful, painstakingly precise approach to her poetry puts her on the map. A member of several grand slam teams, as well as the 2011 New York Knicks Poetry Slam champion, she is young but her heart and passion rivals that of performers with years of experience behind them.

After watching a few of her poems, you may come to recognize her style: a slow build-up of momentum into a crescendo of emotion and sudden, controlled changes in tone. Ingram doesn’t mince words in her rhymes. Check out ‘Thirteen’ and see for yourself.

Yesika Salgado

Salgado is killin’ it. She’s competed as a member of Da Poetry Lounge’s slam team, and more recently, she’s held art showcases as one-half of ChingonaFire. You can get a feel for her confidence just from the self-introduction on her Instagram bio – ‘Salvadorian Fat Fly Poet.’ In her poems, she constantly alternates between heartfelt emotion and biting, self-deprecating humor to explore her identity and cultural heritage.

Take a look at How Not To Make Love to a Fat Girl, a poem about her insecurities with a new lover. Her honesty about her body image cuts like a knife, and she uses that opportunity to tackle fat-phobia and sexism head-on.

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