Slam Poetry

Utah’s slam scene has waxed and waned over the years, but it has largely revolved around its largest urban areas, such as Salt Lake, Ogden, Provo, and St. George. Mapping Literary Utah here spotlights some of the poets from the Salt Lake spoken word scene. Melissa Bond and Jesse Parent (featured below) are some of the city’s most established performers, both nurturing and coaching the city’s younger performance poets over the years. Bond started the first Salt Lake slam in 1996 at the Lazy Moon Pub, while Parent helped organize the local Salt Lake Poetry Slam series since 2007. Parent also served on the executive council for Poetry Slam, Inc., the now-defunct national organization behind the National Poetry Slam, as well as the Individual World Poetry Slam, and the Women of the World Poetry Slam.   

The younger generation of Salt Lake performers featured here include R.J. Walker, who has performed numerous times at the National Poetry Slam, placing sixth overall at the 2017 Individual World Poetry Slam, and fourth overall at the 2018 National Poetry Slam while performing with Salt Lake City Unified. Willy Palomo, Daud Mumin, Melissa Salguero, and Chelsea Guevara are relative newcomers to the Salt Lake spoken word scene, and each poet powerfully investigates race, ethnicity, and the painful realities of the racism, sexism, and also anti-Islamic prejudice they face as mixed-race or immigrant writers in a predominantly white, Mormon state. Oftentimes they perform in a variety of languages, mixing English with the languages they speak with their families, in ways that reflect and amplify their transcultural identities. 

Other popular performers not yet featured in the gallery below include Enan Oscar Whitby, Chris Atkin, Sammi Walker, and Jose Joaquin Soto among others. Several of these poets are still in college, either at Westminster, which has its own team, or the University of Utah. Some have competed with the Salt Lake City Unified Nationals Team or performed at the Utah Arts Festival Indie Slam and Salt Lake Slam, both of which events take place annually. 

Currently, spoken word events for youth and adults take place monthly, usually at Wasatch Theatre Company’s “The Box” venue.  These events are run by Wasatch Wordsmiths, an organization that promotes spoken word performances throughout the Salt Lake valley. For high school students, The Utah High School Poetry Slam Initiative runs monthly competitions for school teams across the valley, who then compete regionally in the state competition each spring. UHSPSI also offers workshops with nationally recognized performance poets, and winners from its competitions compete or feature at the Utah Arts Festival.  

Poet Gallery