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Poetry slam

A poetry slam is a competition at which poets read or recite original work. These performances are usually judged by a panel of five judges, who are sometimes selected from the audience. Typically, the judges score on a scale of 0–10 (zero being the worst, ten being the best). The highest and lowest scores are dropped and the middle three are kept. The highest score one can receive is a 30 and the lowest is a zero.

American poet Marc Smith is credited with starting the poetry slam at the Get Me High Lounge in Chicago in November 1984. In July 1986, the slam moved to its permanent home, the Green Mill Jazz Club. In 1987 the Ann Arbor Poetry Slam was founded by Vince Keuter and found its home at the Heidelberg (moving later 2010, 2013, and 2015 to its new home at Espresso Royale. In August 1988, the first poetry slam was held in New York City at the Nuyorican Poet's Cafe and hosted by Bob Holman. In 1990, the first National Poetry Slam took place in Fort Mason, San Francisco, involving a team from Chicago, a team from San Francisco, and an individual poet from New York. Soon afterward, poetry slam had become so popular that poets were able to make full-time careers in performance and competition, touring around the country and eventually the world.

In 2001, the September 11 attacks had an interesting impact on poetry slam. Many performers were stuck in cities they had been performing in before the attack, and could not get home because flights were down. After the attacks, a new wave of poetry slam started within New York City with the focus on the community of poets coming together to speak about and try to understand the terrorist attacks.

As of 2014, the National Poetry Slam featured 72 certified teams, culminating in five days of competition.

Another notable venue, Da Poetry Lounge, was started in Hollywood, CA in 1998.

Today, there are poetry slam competitions in an ever expanding array of nations around the globe.

Poetry Slam Inc. sanctions three major annual poetry competitions (for poets 18+) on a national and international scale: the National Poetry Slam (NPS), the individual World Poetry Slam (iWPS), and the Women of the World Poetry Slam (WoWPS).

  • Jeffrey McDaniel slammed on several poetry slam teams, and has since published several books and currently teaches at Sarah Lawrence College.
  • Patricia Smith, a four-time national slam champion, went on to win several prestigious literary awards, including being nominated for the 2008 National Book Award and being inducted into the International Literary Hall of Fame for Writers of African Descent in 2006.
  • Bob Holman founded the Nuyorican Poetry Slam has taught for years at the New School, Bard, Columbia and NYU. Craig Arnold won the Yale Series of Younger Poets Competition and has competed at slams.
  • Kip Fulbeck, a professor of Art at the University of California, Santa Barbara competed in slam in the early-1990s and initiated the first spoken word course to be taught as part of a college art program's core curriculum.
  • Michael Salinger.
  • Felice Belle.
  • Javon Johnson was national slam poetry champion in 2003 and 2004, wrote his dissertation on slam poetry and recently published an article in text and performance quarterly about black masculinity and sexism in the slam community.
  • Susan Somers-Willett wrote the book The Cultural Politics of Slam Poetry, exploring the relationships between slam, identity, and politics.
  • Robbie Q. Telfer, Phil West, Ragan Fox writes about his ten years of experience as "a gay slam poet."
  • Marie Fleischmann Timbreza, and Karyna McGlynn have devoted much attention to the merging of the poetry slam community and the academic community in their respective works.


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