Not many people would see Madison as the go-to place for spoken word, and honestly, it’s not — or at least, the city doesn’t market itself as one. Luckily, the Herald fished through the internet and compiled a list of slams and open mics for lovers of word and poetry.
Madison actually used to be big in the poetry scene. In 2013, the famous Midwest Regional Rustbelt Poetry Slam was hosted in the Red Gym. In that competition, a number of poets got their start through viral videos of their performances.
Poet and storyteller Neil Hilborn gained popularity through his original poem, “OCD,” and was joined by other early Button Poetry performers.
While the commotion has died down, every now and then famous poets like Andrea Gibson and Rupi Kaur roll into town to preach their written gospels. The Madison Public Library will host an occasional competition, but other than that, there are many events that go under-marketed.
In our search, however, we stumbled across an ancient website that documented everything poetry when slam was in its prime. Designed by Fibitz Reality Adjustment, madpoetry.org features a bundle of categories that create a real web of connections with Madison’s spoken word scene.
The site lists old poets of the broader city as well as organizations that support spoken word. It also provides a comprehensive schedule of poetry readings, workshops and poetry reviews with an added “News & Reviews” link for updates. There is even a compilation of dates for “open mikes” and contests around downtown.
Besides opportunities to perform spoken word, the website outlines a series of publications, radio/audio stations and bookstores to gain real traction for poetry.
If you were living in the early 2000s, the site would be your go-to for poetry news and updates. It even has a monthly calendar of all spoken word events around Madison. Madpoetry.org was last updated in 2003, but its list of events helped us track down current slams in the downtown area.
While the spoken word scene is nowhere near what it was in the past, Madison still has a decent amount of open mics with these spots –
Mother Fools – A coffee house on Willy Street, Mother Fools Coffeehouse is renowned in Madison for its coffee, service and open mic nights. The shop usually has two events a month, but their Madtown Poetry Open Mics run every first Friday.
Genna’s Lounge – A bar and restaurant on Capitol Square, Genna’s Lounge hosts a weekly open mike night for musicians and poets alike. On every third Saturday, they put on the Urban Spoken Word Poetry Slam with an admission of $5 at 7 p.m.
UW Unions – Both the Memorial Union and Union South have open mic nights every Wednesday at 8 p.m. While these are mostly for musicians, anyone can take the stage and perform their creative art for the gathered audience. In the summer, Memorial Union even takes their event out on the Terrace stage.
Just Bust! – The Office of Multicultural Initiatives puts on their Just Bust! open mic every first Friday of the month. It’s Madison’s longest-running event for all ages and goes from 8 to 10 p.m. at locations throughout downtown and campus. They also have an additional Just Bust! Artistic Workshop every following Saturday afternoon.
Along with regular open mics, here are a few organizations that offer spoken word and poetry opportunities —
Wisconsin Fellowship of Poets (WFOP) is a statewide organization that works to promote awareness of poetry by supporting local poets and providing a wide variety of events throughout the year. They also advocate for the study of poetry in Wisconsin’s education programs and help different, local organizations gain traction.
The Madison Poetry Tribe is a writing group that meets at Michelangelo’s Coffeehouse. They share their pieces, workshop material and write new poetry and other forms. To catch the group, meet there on every second Thursday from 7 to 8:30 p.m.
The Arts + Literature Laboratory works with the writers of Madison by offering a space for all arts and literature needs. They offer classes, workshops, write-ins and poetry fests for people of all ages to participate in. Any upcoming activities can be found on their webpage.
UW-Madison also has a couple more ways to get involved with spoken word, whether you’d like to watch or slam —
Uprise Poetry Collective is a club on campus that helps students develop their writing and speech through spoken word. They host regular events, and every year they send five students and one coach to represent UW-Madison at the College Unions Poetry Slam Invitational.
First Wave is a scholarship program that supports the creative arts on campus. They host regular workshops and events that are sometimes open to the public. Just Bust! is only one of their opportunities for people to get involved with poetry and other creative practices.
The Studio is the creative arts learning community at the UW, and it has a number of activities for spoken word, specifically with their Black Box space in the basement of Sellery Residence Hall. Both First Wave and the Uprise Poetry Collective operate some events in the space as well.
Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, almost all events have been canceled, and we advise students to stay safe and practice social distancing. But after the outbreak ends, these events will be back up and running, waiting for any word lovers who are aching to slam some poetry.