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The National Poetry Slam is the annual Slam Championship tournament, wherein four-person teams from all over North America and Europe gather to compete against each other for the national title. It has become part Super Bowl, part poetry summer camp, and part traveling exhibition. Staged in a different city each year, the National Poetry Slam has emerged as slam's highest-profile showcase.

From its humble roots as a head-to-head match between two of the nation's most storied slam scenes, the National Poetry Slam has become part Super Bowl, part poetry summer camp, and part traveling exhibition. Staged in a different city each year, the National Poetry Slam has emerged as slam's highest-profile showcase.

Slam organizers from potential host cities bring proposals to the annual Slammasters' meeting, an organizational meeting held each March in Chicago, bringing PSI's Executive Council and the coalition of slam organizers together to debate rules, vote on PSI bylaws, and discuss new projects intended to cultivate a wider interest in poetry slam. Potential host cities make presentations highlighting their visions of Nationals, including venues, side events, publicity plans, and budgets. Although the Nationals is primarily a competition, its side events has allowed it to double as a festival for a number of local and visiting non-competing poets, and its reputation as a showcase for performance poetry has garnered it a devoted national following. Past organizers, like those in Connecticut, used the slam to launch a regional poetry festival, while others, like those in Portland and Austin, designed events which generated enough local press and attention to firmly place their local slam scenes into their cities' cultural fabrics.

Four-person teams from North America and Europe are assembled through open competitions, typically among the winners at local certified slam series throughout the year. Once teams are formed and registered with the host city, they engage in practices, often lasting throughout the entire summer, in which they polish their individual poems and write and choreograph group pieces. Through a random draw, the teams are assigned bouts against each other for the preliminary rounds.

In Chicago this past summer, 48 teams registered for Nationals, and each team competed in three-team bouts on the initial two nights (Wednesday and Thursday). Each poet must compete in a bout, using an individual or group piece in his or her spot, and each poem is scored by judges in the audience using the standard 0.0 to 10.0 scoring scale. Of the 48 teams who competed in Chicago, the top 18 advanced to the semi-finals on Friday night. Places were determined through a two-tiered system, first using the team's places in their bouts (1st, 2nd, or 3rd), and then using the team's cumulative scores during the bouts. On Friday night, the bouts are determined by a seeding process that places the number one team against 12th and 18th ranked teams, the 2nd place team against the 11th and 17th place teams, and so on up to 6th vs. 7th vs. 13th places. From there, the top four teams compete in the Saturday night finals. Although the number of teams are steadily increasing, it is not necessary for a team to win all its bouts to get into the finals. In each of the last four years of Nationals, at least one team made the finals winning two of its bouts and placing 2nd in one bout, by scoring a high enough cumulative to beat out other teams in a similar position.

The tournament structure features an individual competition which runs concurrently with the team competition. All team members, as well as a number of non-team-affiliated individual competitors (who typically hail from cities unrepresented by a certified slam), are eligible for the individual competition at the start of the tournament. Of those poets who have done solo rather than group poems in the first two nights of competition, the top ten advance to a semi-finals on Friday night held after the team semi-finals. The top six go onto the Saturday night finals, and compete in between the first two rounds and the final two rounds of the team competition.