Have you ever read a piece of poetry and wondered about its form? Have you ever felt that you’ve understood the structure of a poem and then, midway through, had that understanding turned on its head? Chances are, the poem you’re reading is a slam poem translated to the page. The result is oftentimes catastrophic, leading readers to dismiss the poetry as a jumbled mess of attempts at the usage of poetic devices. What readers don’t know is that when listened to in its intended state, slam poetry can elicit as much of an emotional response as traditional poetry. Rather than printing these poems, they should appear strictly in their original form: the spoken word.
Making its official appearance in 1985, slam poetry took off with the help of Marc Smith, a Chicago poet and construction worker. Approaching Dave Jemilo, event coordinator for the Get Me High Lounge (a local jazz club, now the Green Mill Cocktail Lounge), Smith proposed his idea to host the first poetry slam event during the slow Sunday night shift at the club. On July 25, 1985, the first Uptown Poetry Slam was held and performance poets from around the nation soon clamored to become a part of the Sunday night slams.