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A Brief Guide to Slam Poetry


Because Allen Ginsberg says, "Slam! Into the Mouth of the Dharma!"
Because Gregory Corso says, "Why do you want to hang out with us old guys? If I
   was young, I'd be going to the Slam!"
Because Bob Kaufman says, "Each Slam / a finality." —Bob Holman
from "Why Slam Causes Pain and Is a Good Thing"

One of the most vital and energetic movements in poetry during the 1990s, slam has revitalized interest in poetry in performance. Poetry began as part of an oral tradition, and movements like the Beats and the poets of Negritude were devoted to the spoken and performed aspects of their poems. This interest was reborn through the rise of poetry slams across America; while many poets in academia found fault with the movement, slam was well received among young poets and poets of diverse backgrounds as a democratizing force. This generation of spoken word poetry is often highly politicized, drawing upon racial, economic, and gender injustices as well as current events for subject manner.

A slam itself is simply a poetry competition in which poets perform original work alone or in teams before an audience, which serves as judge. The work is judged as much on the manner and enthusiasm of its performance as its content or style, and many slam poems are not intended to be read silently from the page. The structure of the traditional slam was started by construction worker and poet Marc Smith in 1986 at a reading series in a Chicago jazz club. The competition quickly spread across the country, finding a notable home in New York City at the Nuyorican Poets Café.

For further information, read Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets Café, an anthology edited by Bob Holman and Miguel Algarín.

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