||1984 - Construction
worker and poet Marc Smith starts 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 lays the groundwork for the poetry which
will be exhibited in slam.
1986- Smith approaches 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 competition
on the club's slow Sunday nights. Jemilo welcomes him, and
on July 25, the Uptown Poetry Slam is born. Smith draws on
baseball and bridge terminology for the name, and institutes
the basic features of the competition, including judges chosen
from the audience and cash prizes for the winners. The Green
Mill evolves into a mecca for performance poets, and the Uptown
Poetry Slam still continues nearly 15 years after its inception.
1987 - Ann Arbor, Michigan becomes the home
of the second oldest slam series in August; New York, San
Francisco, and Fairbanks, Alaska follow. New York's home base,
the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in the East Village, eventually becomes
one of the best-known homes for slam.
1990 - The first-ever national slam is held
on October 18 in San Francisco, featuring four-person teams
from Chicago and San Francisco and an individual poet from
New York. The Chicago team wins the debut team competition,
and Chicago's Patricia Smith wins the individual competition.
1991 - Chicago hosts a national competition
featuring teams from eight cities, including future powerhouses
Boston and Cleveland and the first team from New York, and
organizer Marc Smith coins the term National Poetry Slam to
promote the event. The Chicago team repeat as champions and
premiere the first-ever group piece in Nationals competition.
The three-minute time rule is introduced, including an on-stage
clock, but Chicago poet and individual champion Lisa Buscani
appeals to the audience to rescind the rule for the finals,
and officials concur. While the three-minute rule remains
in future years, the on-stage clock does not.
1992 - 17 cities are represented at the Nationals
in Boston by team or individual competitors; the first-ever
Native American slam team is among the 12 teams competing.
Boston wins - the second year in a row the host city has done
so - and Patricia Smith, now competing for Boston, wins her
second individual title. A documentary film is shot at the
event, but is never released. Slam continues to grow nationally,
largely due to '92 Nationals organizer Michael Brown, who,
along with Patricia Smith, spearhead the slam movement in
the Northeast, and Asheville, N.C.'s Allan Wolf and Ginger
West , who do similar groundbreaking in the Southeast.
1993 - 23 teams compete in the Nationals in
San Francisco, including the first teams from Canada (Victoria,
B.C.) and Europe (Finland), as well as American cultural hotbeds
like Seattle, Portland, Los Angeles, and Washington, D.C.
For the first time, the hosts produce a number of side events,
including the haiku slam, the sonnet slam, the erotic reading,
and midnight readings. The first on-air radio slam is held
on Berkeley's KPFA in conjunction with Nationals, and Nuyo/Imago
Records releases of the Best of Slam CD chronicling the competition.
Boston and Patricia Smith repeat as champions.
1994 - The Fifth National Poetry Slam is held
in Asheville, North Carolina, won by the Cleveland team and
individual competitor Gayle Danley, representing Atlanta.
Allan Wolf coins the phrase, "The points are not the
point; the point is poetry," which becomes one of the
principal rallying cries for proponents of the movement. Meanwhile,
poet and poetry organizer Juliette Torrez, currently based
in San Francisco, coordinates the poetry stage for the Lollapalooza
tour, exposing new audiences to contemporary spoken word performers.
As a result, a number of slams start up, particularly in the
Southwest and on the West Coast.
1995 - Ann Arbor hosts the largest Nationals
to date. 27 teams participate, including newcomers like Austin,
Dallas, Detroit, Athens, Ga., Key West, Fla., and Albuquerque.
Organizers Steve and Deb Marsh introduce several new innovations,
including computerized scoring and the three-team bout, a
departure from the head-to-head competition of previous National
Poetry Slams. Asheville, N.C. wins the team competition, before
a then-record crowd of nearly 1300, on the strength of well-crafted
group pieces. In the individual competition, Boston's Patricia
Smith wins her fourth title in six years.
1996 - Filmmaker Paul Devlin brings a documentary
crew to the Nationals in Portland to shoot SlamNation, which
will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival two years later.
The competition brings the largest crowds to date for a Nationals
- over 3,000 people during the four days of competition. 27
teams compete, with Providence winning Nationals after finishing
in last place the year before. Patricia Johnson, representing
Roanoke, Va., wins the individual championship.
1997 - Nationals are held in Middletown, Conn.
33 teams compete, including a team from Sweden two Canadian
teams. The Mouth Almighty team, a New York-based team named
for the spoken word record label sponsoring them, wins the
team competition. Taylor Mali, captain of the Mouth Almighty
team and the previous year's Providence team, wins his second
straight Nationals, and becomes legendary in the slam community
for his attention to strategy. In the individual competition,
Cleveland's Boogie Man becomes the first man to win the individual
1998 - The documentary Slam Nation (focusing
on finalist teams from New York, Providence, Berwyn, Ill.,
and Austin at the '96 Nationals) premieres at the Sundance
Film Festival, and garners critical attention that includes
positive reviews from the New York Times and the Chicago Sun-Times'
Roger Ebert. The Nationals, held in Austin, bring a record
45 teams into competition, including 13 first-time teams.
Members of the national media, including writers from Time
and the Wall Street Journal and a camera crew from CNN/Entertainment
Weekly, converges on Austin to give the slam its highest-profile
media treatment to date. New York edges Dallas to win its
first-ever team championship, and Chicago's Reggie Gibson,
whose work is prominently featured in the quasi-autobiographical
1997 movie Love Jones, wins the individual title.
1999 - Poetry Slam, Inc. files for official
non-profit status as the umbrella organization for slam as
the number of certified slams in North America reaches 75.
The 10th Annual Nationals are held in Chicago, featuring 48
teams, and is chronicled by such media notables as the New
York Times and 60 Minutes. For the first time in slam history,
a New York poet, Roger Bonair-Agard, wins the individual championship.
Nationals history is also made when two teams - San Francisco
and San Jose - slam to the first-ever first-place tie. Rather
than compete in a tiebreaker round, the teams decide to share
the title. In front of the largest crowd to ever witness a
poetry slam championship (over 2000), the championship trophy,
made from a pair of boxing gloves and a stack of books spray-painted
gold, is torn in half on stage at Marc Smith's behest. Earlier
in the day, Smith has announced he will take a leave of absence
from his leadership role as President of PSI's Executive Council,
noting that the organization behind slam is now strong enough
to maintain slam without his hands-on involvement as a leader.