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  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 title.

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.