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In 1985 a construction worker and poet named Marc Smith (slampapi) started a poetry reading series at a Chicago jazz club, the Get Me High Lounge, looking for a way to breathe life into the open mike poetry format. The series' emphasis on performance laid the groundwork for a style poetry and performance which would eventually be spread across the world. In 1986 Smith approached Dave Jemilo, the owner of the Green Mill (a Chicago jazz club and former haunt of Al Capone), with a plan to host a weekly poetry cabaret on the club's slow Sunday nights. Jemilo welcomed him, and on July 25, the Uptown Poetry Slam was born. Smith drew on baseball and bridge terminology for the name, and instituted the show’s basic structure of an open mike, guest performers, and a competition. The Green Mill evolved into the Mecca for performance poets, and the Uptown Poetry Slam still continues 18 years after its inception.

From The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Slam Poetry: “Slam poetry is the brainchild of Marc Smith (So What!) and the blue collar intellectual eccentrics who crammed into the Get Me High Lounge on Monday nights from November 1984 to September 1986 for a wide-open poetry experience. Finger-poppin’ hipster Butchie (James Dukaris) owned the place and allowed anything to happen, and it usually did. The experimenters in this new style of poetry presentation gyrated, rotated, spewed, and stepped their words along the bar top, dancing between the bottles, bellowing out the backdoor, standing on the street or on their stools, turning the west side of Chicago into a rainforest of dripping whispers or a blast furnace of fiery elongated syllables, phrases, snatches of scripts, and verse that electrified the night.”