What Is A Poetry Slam?

Words from Young Dawkins, Scottish Slam Winner 2012 and Instigator-In-Chief of the BBC Edinburgh Festival Fringe Slam, 2011 – 2013. 

Marc Smith, credited with starting Slam in Chicago in the 1980s.

Marc Smith, credited with starting Slam in Chicago in the 1980s.

The story of Slam begins with Spoken Word, and that story begins with the ancient Greeks, who included lyric performance in the original Olympic Games. Spoken word was then, and is now, about stories told with passion and expression in a way that encourages an audience to respond.

Modern spoken word/Slam began as a uniquely American phenomenon, emerging from the mixed cultural gumbo pot of the Harlem Renaissance, the blues and the strident, emerging voices of Kerouac, Ginsberg and the rest of the Beats in the late 50s and early 60s. The common thread was the insistence that society needed to change, and these voices were going to make sure that happened.

The first recognized slam was put together by Marc Smith, a socialist construction worker poet, at the Get Me High Lounge in Chicago in November, 1984. In August, 1988, a hugely successful slam was held at the Nuyorican Poet’s Café in New York City. Two years later, the first US National Slam was hosted in San Francisco. A fire had been started, and it still burns.

Today, there is an active Slam scene in over 50 countries around the world. The Coupe du Monde de Slam, featuring the national champions from 16 countries in a week-long competition, occurs each June in the 20th arrondissement in Paris. Scotland has sent its champion to do battle there every year since 2011.

One day, soon, we will win.

Young Dawkins, 2014.

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