"But is it really poetry?" That question has been asked ever since Chicago poet Marc Smith started Slam Poetry in 1986. While this issue is debated, the Slam continues to grow as an exciting, outrageous, energetic phenomenon that is spreading widly. Slam Poetry is certainly one of the most important grassroots arts movements in America today.
In a Poetry Slam, judges, randomly chosen from the audience, score poets on a scale from one to ten - the poet with the highest score at the end of the evening wins. The audience participation and the democratic nature of the event (often signing up is all that is required to perform at a local venue) have helped the Slam catch on across the country.
In many cities and regions, local competitions are used to choose a four-poet team. Then each year since 1989, the slam community of hundreds of poets converges upon a different city to compete in the granddaddy of them all: the National Poetry Slam.
Whether competing on teams or as individuals, all slammers must follow these rules:
All work must be original to the poet.
No props, costumes, or background music.
There is a three-minute time limit for all performances.
The number of Slams held regularly has become impossible to count as Slam Poetry spreads from American cities to small towns and on to other countries. Marc Smith could never have imagined that his invitation to the crowd to participate in the poetry through judging would create unprecedented audience opportunities for poets. It seems as if everywhere, people are packing cafe's and clubs to catch the spoken word artists engage in several rounds of breathless verbal competition.
And in the process, it is turning on a whole new generation to the power and the beauty of words.
(For more in-depth info, read Kurt Heintz' An Incomplete History of Slam.)