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Poetry Slam

Poetry Slam

The term “poetry slam” was coined by Chicago native Marc Smith to describe the cabaret-style poetry show he began staging at the Green Mill Lounge in July 1986. Designed to encourage active audience participation, slams allow booing, cheering, hissing, finger snapping, and foot stomping as responses to the poems presented. A typical slam has an open-mike set for newcomers, a segment devoted to guest performances ranging from stand-up poetry to multimedia presentations, and a “slam competition.”

Judged by randomly selected audience members, “slam competitions” loosely follow Olympic-style scoring. Poets perform for a maximum of three minutes, either solo or as part of an ensemble, and are rated between 0 and 10 for their performance skills and the quality of the text. Sometimes negative numbers are permitted.

Initially dismissed by mainstream poetry circles as cheap entertainment, slams have demonstrated that the art of performance when combined with artfully written texts can enhance the general public's interest in poetic words. More than three hundred cities worldwide have active poetry slams. Each year the United States, Great Britain, and Germany hold national slam competitions attracting thousands of enthusiasts. Universities, high schools, and cultural centers use slams to spark student interest in poetry. Slams and slam poets have appeared on TV, in movies, and on the Internet.