If you follow the local poetry slam scene long enough, you’ll start hearing certain names over and over.

They’ll be announced as special not-to-miss headliners or mentioned in passing conversation or sometimes whispered like an underground rumor of an approaching storm:

“Jaylee is coming. Jaylee is coming”

That was the murmur last week as San Francisco’s Lit Slam prepared to host poet Jaylee Alde – a Los Angeles-based former Oaklander who, according to Lit Slam, “abandoned Oakland in pursuit of true love a few years ago, but there are still rumblings of his legend in every dive bar and poetry spot worth its salt on either side of the Bay.”

Indeed, the Bay Area knows good slam poetry; between its different poetry slam teams and spoken word organizations over the years, the Bay Area has given rise to an extraordinary number of slam poets who have gone on to compete at national and international poetry slam championships, perform on HBO’s “Def Poetry Jam” and gain wide recognition for their craft.

In 1999, at the 10th National Poetry Slam in Chicago, three of the top four teams – out of a total of 48 teams – were from the Bay Area; San Francisco/Berkeley and San Jose tied for first and Oakland came in fourth. As recently as 2009, San Francisco placed third nationally. Meanwhile, Bay Area-based spoken word organization Youth Speaks is leading the charge on cultivating powerful generations of youth poets and spoken word champions.

So what is slam poetry, exactly? Though slam poetry is often used synonymously with terms like “spoken word” and “open mic,” slam poetry is a form of performance poetry found specifically at competitive events called poetry slams. Slams are governed by national rules, namely:

1. Anyone may sign up to compete in a poetry slam on a first-come, first-served basis.
2. Poets must perform original poems.
3. Poets may not use any props, costumes or musical instruments.

Slams follow a basic structure: Five judges are chosen at random from the audience. Judges score poems on a scale of zero to 10 (10 being the highest), assigning five points for performance and five for content. The highest and lowest scores are dropped and the remaining three scores are added to give each poet a possible total score of 30 for each performance.

Points are deducted for going over the three-minute time limit. Typically, all of the evening’s poets perform one poem apiece in the first round. The highest-scoring poets then go on to the second and subsequent rounds. At the end of the night, the overall highest-scoring poet is crowned the winner of that poetry slam.

Ideally, audiences are vocal and rowdy. Poetry slams encourage audience participation and loud expression of opinion – judges are openly booed or cheered based on the scores they assign and audiences are encouraged to feel emotionally invested in not just the event’s outcome, but in the performance aspect of the poetry itself.

Again, the Bay Area rolls deep in slam and spoken word. Following is a list of just some of the events around the Bay where you can catch some slam poetry on either a one-off or regular basis. Note that some of these events are not official slams (in the rules-and-regulations sense), but rather open mics or showcases that reliably include spoken word poetry.



17th Annual Youth Speaks Teen Poetry Slam

In their words: “Youth Speaks hosted the first Youth Speaks Teen Poetry Slam in 1997, the first poetry slam for teenagers in the country. The annual slam features hundreds of young writers, emcees and performers from throughout the Bay Area and Northern California, and attracts almost 10,000 audience members during its month-long run.”

The Semi-Finals Round 1 happen at 7 p.m. TONIGHT, April 19, at the David Brower Center, 2150 Allston Way, Berkeley. Round 2 takes place at 7 p.m. Saturday, April 20, at the Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak St., Oakland. Both events are FREE.

LUNADA Literary Lounge

In their words: “For over a decade, LUNADA has been the Bay Area’s only full moon bilingual literary ritual and performance gathering. Held every month on the night of the full moon, LUNADA Literary Lounge is a community gathering where stories, food, songs and spirit are shared. Each Lunada features community poets, local legends, visiting mystics and other mero meros of the stage.”

The next LUNADA Literary Lounge is at 7:30 p.m. April 25 at Galeria de la Raza, 2857 24th St., San Francisco. $5 at door.

CalSLAM Open Mic

UC Berkeley’s student slam team is regularly a force in the local poetry slam scene. In their words: “Established in 2001, CalSLAM hosts workshops, open mics and slams open to the campus and greater Bay Area community, throughout the school year. Our mission is to create a safe space on campus for students and community members to explore and share themselves, their experiences and their world through words.”

The next and final CalSLAM open mic of the semester is on May 2. Details TBA – stay tuned via the CalSLAM Facebook page.



The Lit Slam

Combining the best of live performance and print, San Francisco’s Lit Slam is a monthly poetry slam that produces an annual audience-curated poetry anthology featuring the winning poems from each month’s slam (“What’d you expect? We’re poets. We have a weakness for print”). In their words: “What’s this all about, anyway? Community, for one. And dialogue, and inclusiveness and an unswerving devotion to the search for excellence in language.”

At 8 p.m. every third Monday of every month at Viracocha, 998 Valencia St., San Francisco. $5 at door.

Free Feature Salon

Held at Brainwash Cafe & Laundromat, that beloved San Francisco venue that features the holy grail combination of laundromat + diversion, Free Feature Salon is a weekly spoken word-centric open mic. You can catch some phenomenal performance poetry, grab some dinner and get your laundry done all in one place – in one night.

At 7 p.m. every Monday at Brainwash Cafe & Laundromat, 1122 Folsom St., San Francisco. FREE.



Blue Candle Tuesday

Hosted by comedian LeRoy Stanfield of the BayBoysOfComedy, Blue Candle Tuesday has offered weekly main dishes of comedy and poetry to pair with the hearty soul food at Dorsey’s Locker since the late ’90s. In their words: “Come out every Tuesday day night for some raw and uncut comedy.”

At 8:30 p.m. every Tuesday at Dorsey’s Locker, 5817 Shattuck Ave., Oakland. FREE.



Berkeley Poetry Slam

In their words: “The Berkeley Slam is widely seen as the epicenter of the Northern California Slam scene. Most well-known poets come to the event regularly and up-and-comers see it as THE place to test their work. Formerly a monthly event, The Berkeley Slam had the blessing of ‘too many’ people in the venue, making it hard to move and breathe. In 2000, the event went weekly. It consistently draws 100-300 people.”

At 8:30 p.m. every Wednesday at the Starry Plough, 3101 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley. $7 at door.

Mouth Off Wednesdays

Hosted by Hot Water Cornbread Entertainment since 2006, Mouth Off Wednesdays, according to Oakland Local’s Niema Jordan, “provides a space for folks to speak and be heard or simply listen and enjoy. From the college students who are home on break to the older folks imparting a bit of revolutionary rhetoric, Mouth Off Wednesdays is a space where writers and aspiring writers are all about the share.”

At 7:30 p.m. every Wednesday at Air Lounge, 492 9th St., Oakland. $5 at door, $3 with student ID.



Oakland Poetry Slam & Open Mic

In their words: “Started in 1999, The Oakland Poetry Slam Open-Mic has been organized and promoted by the dynamic duo of Dahled and Nazelah Jeffries since 2005. In that time, D has produced the show and managed to make the team a record six straight times and Naz has hosted the show and coached the squad.”

It’s semi-finals time for Bay Area slam teams! Oakland’s last semi-final qualifier is at 9:30 p.m. April 25 at The New Parkway, 424 24th St., Oakland. $10 at door. Oakland semi-finals are scheduled for May 9.

Tourettes Without Regrets

Tourettes isn’t strictly slam poetry. You’ll likely also catch some burlesque and striptease, dirty haiku competitions, rap battles, lubed-up group Twister games and things being set on fire. Presided over by Jamie DeWolf (formerly Jamie Kennedy), who for years was a mainstay in the Bay Area slam poetry scene, Tourettes bills itself as “the Fight Club of underground art.”

At 8:30 p.m. every first Thursday of the month at the Oakland Metro Operahouse, 630 Third St., Oakland. $10 at door.

Holla Back Thursdays Open Mic Poetry Series

In their words: “Come check out one of the only open mic spots in East Oakland! Holla Back: a weekly Open Mic session for poets, songwriters, and theater artists.”

At 8 p.m. every Thursday at EastSide Cultural Center, 2277 International Blvd., Oakland. Donations requested.

16th & Mission

An example of a self-organized “people’s open mic” at its finest, the 16th & Mission open mic is held every Thursday outside of the 16th Street Mission BART station, on the street, open to any regulars, stop-ins, curious passersby and BART commuters who get drawn into the fray. In their words: “Lend your voice to this eclectic group of street performers. From musicians and emcees to poets and comics, there’s something for everyone here under just the stars and streetlights.”

At 9 p.m. every Thursday at 16th Street Mission BART Station plaza, 16th and Mission St., San Francisco. FREE.



Youth Speaks Under-21 Open Mic

In their words: “The Under-21 Open Mics are designed as bi-weekly performance ‘open-houses’ for new young writers and performers to flex their skills on the mic. Come to inspire and be inspired by young artists across the Bay Area performing spoken word, music, dance and more. No censorship, all love!”

Every second and last Fridays of the month at alternating venues in San Francisco, Oakland and Richmond. The next upcoming Under-21 Open Mic is at 6:30 p.m. May 10 at ProArts Gallery, 150 Frank Ogawa Plaza, Oakland. FREE.

San Francisco Queer Open Mic

In their words: “The San Francisco Queer Open Mic is a regular event offering a mixed bag of open mic performances (usually poetry and short stories, sometimes music or comedy) and kick-ass features. It primarily serves the queer community and it’s been running since 2004.”

At 7:30 p.m. every fourth Friday of the month at Modern Times Bookstore, 2919 24th St., San Francisco. $3-5 suggested donation.



Saturday Night Special

Hosted by Oakland poet Hollie Hardy and Rad Dad zine founder Tomas Moniz, the monthly Berkeley-based Saturday Night Special is “an evening of literary performance, including two featured readers, an open mic and (optional) themed writing challenge. Schmooze with other writers from the Bay Area as we share, support and encourage our practice.”

At 7 p.m. every last Saturday of the month at Nick’s Lounge, 3218 Adeline St., Berkeley. FREE.



Golden State Slam & Open Mic

A fiery new emergence in the Bay Area slam scene, the three-year-old Golden State Slam, in its own words, “has been graced by the best spoken word artists in the world. We’ve had international and national slam champions, national team slam finalist and  champions. Poets that have performed on HBO, BET, ABC, CBS, CNN and PBS television stations and so many regional grand slam champions we’ve lost count.”

At 7:30 p.m. every first and third Sundays of the month at Grand Lake Coffee House, 440 Grand Ave., Oakland. $7 at door, $5 with student ID.

The SF City Slam Poets & Playwrights

In their words: “The SF City Slam Poets & Playwrights is more than a nationally competitive, loving slam scene. It is also a community of performers from all disciplines: music, dance, poetry, and the visual arts. We come together once every month to celebrate our creative diversity (and eat FREE delicious, home-made Creole food), and to share the work that excites us.”

At 6:30 p.m. every second Sunday of the month at The Luggage Store Gallery, 1007 Market St., San Francisco. $5 at door; no one turned away for lack of funds.


Did we miss any that our readers should know about? Leave a comment with event information!

Oakland Social is a weekly arts and culture column devoted to upcoming events, new places, and narratives about going out in Oakland. Have ideas for what to cover? Contact goingout@oaklandlocal.com.

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