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Slam or be slammed: emerging poets are finding more places to practice their craft and compete against the best of the best.

Imagine a room packed with people, in which five judge--picked at random--score poets in a boisterous free-for-all of storytelling, musicality and comedy rolled into metaphor. The scores can range from 1, for a horrible poem, to 10, for an orgasmic poetic experience. (The host drops the lowest and highest score so the highest score a poet can receive is 30.)

Imagine, too, the mounting pressure as poets get louder, as audiences cheer and some people start yelling "10! 10! 10!" This is what a poetry slam can become. This is what lures people into performing and writing. The growing popularity of poetry slams has opened an ever-increasing list of venues in numerous cities, providing forums for emerging poets across the country and audiences who just want to listen. A handful of these venues appear here, but more are listed on Web sites like,, and At most venues, aspiring and veteran poets can just show up and sign up to compete. Sometimes they win some cash: $10 is still the prize at Chicago's Green Mill. And some slammers compete in their cities to vie with others for slots in the annual National Poetry Slain run by Poetry Slam, Inc., which takes place every August in a different city.


Chicago is the hometown of what has become the National Poetry Slam. Marc Smith began the slam in 1985 at a small bar called the Get Me High Lounge. The cutoff time for signing up to slam is 7 P.M. every Sunday night at the Green Mill (4802 N. Broadway, 773-878-5552, admission: $5). The club is one of Al Capone's former speakeasies, and Billie Holiday once graced its stage. The first Sunday of every month offers slamming poets the option of performing with Marc Smith's band, The Pong Unit, during the competition, ]nixing jazz with poetry. Some of the poets featured have included D-Knowledge, Regie Gibson, Maria "Momma" McCray, Chuck Perkins and Monica Copeland. This is also the slam that catapulted Patricia Smith toward her victories as a four-time poetry slam champion.

Every April, slammers converge upon Chicago for the annual Slam Masters Weekend, where organizers and poets meet to plan for the upcoming national, regional, local slams and other events. Many of the poets attending the weekend session make an appearance at the Green Mill on Sunday to perform. Some of the poets stay to perform on Mondays at Mental Graffiti in the Wicker Park neighborhood. The club opens its stage every week to poets, singers and aspiring emcees. The Mental Graffiti reading was originally hosted and organized by bartender/slam coach/Web designer/writer Krystal Ashe and underground emcee and DJ Anacron. The hosts Anacron and Krystal have handed over the reins to Dan "Sully" Sullivan, who now hosts Mental Graffiti's slam with Nikki Patin on the last Monday of every month at The Big Horse (1558 W. Milwaukee Avenue). Mental Graffiti's sign-up starts at 7:30 P.M. (call 773-384-0043, or visit for updates; admission: $5.)


California has seen an explosion of readings and slams throughout the state. Def Jam poet Poetri and Shihan serve as hosts at Da Poetry Lounge, at 544 N. Fairfax Avenue, in Holly wood. They claim bragging rights to being the longest-running weekly venue in Los Angeles and of being the country's largest weekly poetry venue, attracting at least 300 people. In the 2003 National Poetry Slam competition, the L.A. team won the Nationals and Hollywood placed fifth. Open mics are held every Tuesday, and the slam takes place on the third Tuesday of every month. (For information call 213-390-7072; admission is free except on slam nights; $5 slam admission.)

San Francisco and Oakland have carved out a strong presence for themselves as well. Paul Flores and Marc Bamuthi Joseph host and organize one of two San Francisco slams at Studio Z, at 314 11th Street, on the second Sunday of every month. This slam was an offshoot of the slam at the Justice League in the Mission District where Joseph performed under the name of Seeking. Danny Hoch and Zion-I have performed there in collaboration with Studio Z slam as part of the Hip Hop Theater Festival. (Doors open at 7:30 P.M., poetry slam begins at 8 P.M.; 415-252-7100 or 415-255 9035 ext. 14,; admission: $7 before 9 P.M., $10 thereafter.)

Sonia Whittle runs the Oakland slam every first and third Thursday at the Oakland Box Theatre at 1928 telegraph, which is near Oakland 19th Street BART station. (Call 510-451-1932 for information; admission: $6, $10 during slam finals.) The show starts at 9 P.M. and the sign-up list closes when it's full. Khiry Malik and other poets showcase a formidable black presence in the slam scene with the Mahogany Open Mic and Slam at the Jamaica House/Sacramento Poetry Center at 1631 K Street (916-441-7395; admission: free).


A crisscross from West to East brings slam aficionados to the Nuyorican Poets Cafe in New York's East village. Miguel Algarin, a retired Rutgers University professor, originally opened the space in 1973 for poets like his friend Miguel Pinero, the late author of the play Short Eyes. The Nuyorican hosts slams on Wednesdays at 9 P.M. and Fridays at 10 P.M. The cost is $5. This celebrated venue is located at 236 E. 3rd Street, between Avenues B and C. Even with two weekly slams, there are performances of theater, comedy, hip-hop and workshops to be found during the rest of the week.

Although Nuyorican Poets Cafe is an historically significant venue for New York slams, the Bowery Poetry Club and Bar 13 have opened their doors to give poets more room to shout, emote and memorialize through their words. The Urbana Poetry Slam happens on Thursdays at The Bowery Poetry Club at 308 Bowery at Bleecker Street (212-614 0505; admission: $5), just across the street from CBGB, the punk rock landmark. Bob Holman owns this venue that hosts literary events almost every day of the week, which has featured the likes of Amiri Baraka, Suheir Hammad and Sage Francis.

On Monday nights, Bar 13 is the home of the LouderArts Slam at 7 P.M. Guy LeCharles Gonzalez founded this reading in March 1998 to foster the development of the written word rather than the performance aspect of slam. It has been the home to notable slam champions Roger Bonair-Agard and Staceyann Chin. Willie Perdomo, Da Boogieman and Dad Orlandersmith have also been a few of their past features. Located in the Union Square area of the city, Bar 13 is at 35 East 13th Street at University Place on the second floor (212-979-6677; admission: $5, and $4 for students).


Outside of New York, Boston's Cantab has been prominently featured in the 1998 documentary SlamNation. Cantab's weekly open mic and slam starts its sign up at 7:30 P.M. every Wednesday at the Third Rail Lounge at Central Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts (617-354-2685; admission: $3).

Washington, D.C., has also stepped out the southern end of the East Coast so slam poets such as Gayle Danley and DJ Renegade could impart necessary narratives. Two smaller slams in D.C. include the Blackwords/Takoma Station slam on the first Friday of each month at 6914 4th Street, NW. Sign-up starts at 7:30 P.M., and admission is $10. An occasional women's slam occurs at SisterSpace Bookstore, 1515 U Street NW, but two slams competing at the national competition joined forces: The Myth Poetry Series @ Teaism starts at 7 P.M. every Sunday at 400 8th St. NW (admission: $5) and SLAMicide takes place at XandO in Baltimore, Maryland, at 3003 N. Charles Street every Monday from 8 to 11 P.M. (410-889-7076; admission: $5). The two events chose to unite their top slam winners to form one D.C./Baltimore team.

Tara Betts is a widely published writer, performance artist and teacher from Chicago. Her work most recently appeared in Best Black Women's Erotica, 2.
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Author:Betts, Tara
Publication:Black Issues Book Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2004
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