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Chicago’s Slam Scene Sampler

Claire Smith checks out the coolest slam poetry nights in town and advises accordingly.

By Arts & Culture, Literature

illustration by Amber Huff

illustration by Amber Huff

Poetry slams and open mics are something I’m definitely not a stranger to. One of my first experiences was at the Nuyorican Poets Café in Manhattan, New York, which set the bar pretty high. I heard from Washington, D.C.’s local poets Pages Matam and Mahogany L. Browne – folks who are pretty well known when it comes to spoken word artists. It was a night I won’t ever let escape my memory.

It’s the passion in these artists that draws me in the most. Slam nights offer a particular vibe, a sense of vulnerability or rawness, and the formation of safe spaces; they feel incredibly special. Poetry offers a glimpse at humanity in its emotional honesty that—for some—feels outside the regularity of the day-to-day.

Seeking out new venues for performance poetry was a must when arriving in Chi-town. Here, there are a few incredible venues that stand out. Use the guide below to find one that engages you!



WHEN: Every Tuesday, 6 p.m. workshop, 7 p.m. open mic

WHERE: Young Chicago Authors, 1180 N Milwaukee Ave. Chicago, IL 60642


Hosted at Young Chicago Authors (YCA), the night begins with a workshop, followed by an open mic. It’s an opportunity for anyone — any race, gender, or age — to come and explore their poetic potential and hear what others have been working on. The moment you enter the room, you’re surrounded with a sense of community, even if you’ve never been there before; it’s a very welcoming space. I went with my roommate; we sat in the second row. The streetlight shone on my notebook while I took notes and drew inspiration from the environment. I said hello to those that I knew, and sat back as the rules were announced: “No racist, sexist, homophobic, ageist, ableist, or otherwise derogatory language is allowed. You have three minutes. One poem, not 87 haikus.”

The first time I went, I was new to the space. I was amazed by the amount of talent that had been curated there. Each week features fresh new faces. Chicago’s own Mick Jenkins made a guest appearance this past week. Dressed in casual attire, he came to the stage and shared a piece that was new — otherwise known as “fresh produce” to the YCA crowd. If you are interested in sharing your poetry or music, be sure to get there at least 20 minutes beforehand to get your name on the list!



The Gala

WHEN: Every second Monday, 8 p.m.

WHERE: Canvas, 2313 W. North Ave.

$5 suggested donation

The Gala is a community of artists that organize monthly events to support and inspire collaboration. They host an open mic every month that is full of driven artists, old and new. It’s a bit more popular and adult compared to Wordplay!, so if you’re looking for an older crowd, this is your new Monday night location. You have to be 18 or older to enter. If you want to get on the open mic list, be sure to be there at least 30 minutes early because slots fill up quickly, and the hosts will not hesitate to run the show past midnight. Held at the DIY space Canvas, The Gala will have you engaging with a community of artists. Hosts always encourage audience participation especially when it comes to showing love to the artists. This event is open to musicians as well. Usually, there’s a generous mixture of poetry and music.




WHEN: Every Sunday, 7 p.m.

WHERE: The Silver Room, 1506 E. 53rd St.


SoulSessions is a new event that will run for the next three Sundays. Hosted by Charlie Coffeen, SoulSessions had its first run at Lokal in Wicker Park, but is now testing waters with the Silver Room in Hyde Park. If enough love is shown in the next few weeks, it will run continuously. Open to poets, other sorts of MCs, musicians, and artists, SoulSessions is aiming to create a community similar to the likes of The Gala.


And for those who have never been to an open mic, here’s the list of do’s and don’ts:


  • Be supportive of every artist.
  • Show respect.
  • Applaud for everyone, and be sure to show extra love to those who you really enjoyed (feel free to pull them aside afterwards and tell them what you liked best about their performance).
  • Be yourself and come as you are; these spaces are for honesty and creativity.



  • Ruin the safe space. Like your mother told you, “If you have nothing nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
  • Talk while others are performing. You will hear, “Respect the mic” at almost every venue.

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