viral poetry
Videos of spoken-word poetry have gained traction on the internet, leading audiences to moments reflection and discussion. (Illustration by Ben Miller, Towson University)
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viral poetry

From love to mental illness to divorce, these poets dig their heels into life’s most confusing pieces.

Spoken-word poetry has become increasingly popular among young adults in recent years. The power that a combination of words has when whispered, spoken and yelled has brought attention to this growing art form.

Well-known poets are featured online daily by multiple poetry communities, and their viral poetry has attracted hundreds of thousands of views. Here are a few of the poets blazing the trail in viral poetry.

1. Sabrina Benaim

Sabrina is a Canadian poet who wrote and performed a phenomenal poem called “Explaining my Depression to my Mother.” This poem does exactly what the title says.

She carefully chooses words, similes and metaphors to express her feelings about her depression and anxiety in a way that would allow someone else to understand her and feel her pain. Sabrina perfectly performs the poem, down to the inflections in her voice, conveying the true emotion she feels and bringing the audience to feel her words within themselves.

2. Sarah Kay

Sarah’s poem, “If I Should Have a Daughter,” appeared in a TED Talk in 2011 and has been watched by millions of people since. She tells a story about what she would tell her daughter, should she have one, to expect in life.

The beauty of the poem lies in the contrast between the expression of the wonders of life and the troubles life can bring. The references she uses apply to a young girl’s view of the world, but they can be connected to the general viewpoint of humanity as well. She leaves nothing out as she hits home on aspects like hurt, love and family.

3. Adam Gottlieb

Adam is featured in the documentary “Louder than a Bomb,” a film about Chicago students participating in poetry slams. He performs a few different poems, but the one that stuck out to me the most was “Poet, Breathe Now.”

Adam’s passion as he speaks and shouts his words breaks through to the audience as he explains the process of writing poetry, and its effect on poets and listeners alike. His use of rhyme creates a nice flow, allowing the listener to follow along seamlessly.

4. Nova Venerable

Nova was also featured in “Louder than a Bomb,” when she performed her emotional poem, “Cody.” The tear-inducing viral poetry video pulls on the heartstrings of audiences as Nova describes the endurance that the life her younger brother, Cody, requires as he struggles with autism, seizures and diabetes.

She goes on to mention her own pain and how seeing her brother go through such unimaginably difficult times has impacted her own life’s journey.

5. The Steinmenauts Slam Team

This poetry slam team participated in the “Louder than a Bomb” Poetry Slam in 2010 and starred in the aforementioned documentary. Their performance of “Counting Graves” is absolutely heartbreaking as it tells the story of a young boy who was murdered in a drive-by shooting.

The gunman mistook him for his actual target, his older brother. This poem is different than others because it is a group of four poets who each play a different role: narrator, mother, an older brother and a younger brother. The poets transform into these characters, allowing them to tell their story in a more visual, visceral and effective manner.

6. Phil Kaye

Phil’s viral poetry video, “Repetition,” emphasizes the importance of repeating words and events. He begins by describing how repeating a word many times results in the loss of its meaning.

He then tells the story of how his parents divorced, and the resulting break in his family due to the repeating of words and events. His powerful message explains how circumstances change despite feeling stuck due to recurring events, such as the repeating of mistakes.

7. Denice Frohman

Denice uses humor to address the serious issue of homophobia in her poem, “Dear Straight People.” Her bluntness about the relationship between straight people and gay people is both comedic and eye-opening, and she brings up points that you might not have thought about before while also touching on the ones you have.

By the end of the poem, it is obvious that Denice has not allowed others to make her feel small, and she refuses to be silenced by the judgement of others. Her display of bravery is empowering, and she encourages those who have felt unable to truly live their lives because of the fear of ridicule.

8. Rudy Francisco

“To the Girl Who Works at Starbucks” is a brilliantly intense love poem. Rudy intertwines comedy and emotion as he tells a story about a young woman he would give the world to. I noticed that the middle of the poem is borrowed from one of his other viral poetry videos, “If I was a Love Poet.”

The use of that previous poem fits perfectly, as he was trying to describe love, and now a specific girl is involved — the girl who works at Starbucks. This makes it so much more real. The ending of the poem, when Rudy rushes to explain that he doesn’t want to lose her, leaves the audience awestricken.

9. Neil Hilborn

I believe the viral poetry video that people know best is “OCD” by Neil Hilborn. However, one of Neil’s poems with less traffic, “The Future,” focuses on battling various mental disorders and suicidal thoughts. It is not only relatable to many, but it is empowering as the audience experiences Neil’s perspective on suicide, and how this viewpoint changes in the middle of the poem, when he decides not kill himself after experiencing dark, suicidal thoughts.

Comedy is a central element of this poem, a tool Neil uses effectively to shed light on dark topics, particularly in the beginning of the poem as a means to open up a conversation with his audience. The poem’s ending is my favorite part because of Neil’s use of positive metaphors when comparing the future to objects and events, symbolizing reasons to live.

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