Whether you write Slam Poetry or cheer on a Poetry Slam, this dynamic grass-roots movement is happening now at a city near you. Slam poetry refers to an urban poetic mode as much influenced by the Dead Kennedys, gansta rap, and... [more]
Whether you write Slam Poetry or cheer on a Poetry Slam, this dynamic grass-roots movement is happening now at a city near you. Slam poetry refers to an urban poetic mode as much influenced by the Dead Kennedys, gansta rap, and DJ dance raves as by Lord Byron. Poetry Slams refer to the no-holds-barred public display of dueling poets. Part performance art, part gladiator match, poets compete onstage against each other with the audience participating as judge and jury.
Urban, tough, sometimes outrageous, Slam matches evolved from the early-80s punk underground. Like Slam dancing and other aggressive expression, it began as a performance based on showy hostility. Chicago poet Marc Smith (the generally conceded 'father of the Slam') brought together poets in creative competition at the Green Mill Bar to entertain a lackluster audience. By the mid-1980s, Poetry Slams had caught fire in New York as well as Chicago, as its unique dialectic between audience and poet took center stage: the crowd rates the author's work, not a critic or peer. The bouts sometimes resemble lyrical boxing matches, with three-minute reading limits, randomly chosen judges from the audience scoring the poems on a scale from 1 to 10. The poet with the most points at the end of the night wins.
This is poetry for the people: every voice can be heard, regardless of education, publishing history, or elitist standards. As a founding member of the movement explains, 'It was poetry against convention, in bars instead of salons.' Straight or gay, black or white, male or female -- all can compete on equal footing, with only the power of the spoken word determining merit. The diaspora of the Poetry Slam has penetrated the four corners of the globe. Competing teams from Austin to Vienna match metaphors for titular titles. Though some disparaging critics dismiss both the form and forum as a passing fad of little literary consequence, the ever-increasing popularity of the movement tells its own story.