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  • Carmen Feliz

Father of Slam: Marc Kelly Smith

As poets, we’ve likely come across slam poetry once or twice before. Maybe we’ve been too afraid to take a stab at the competitive art form, but we can appreciate those that write with rhythm, perform with passion, and receive scores graciously.


In the 1980s, Marc Smith noticed that poetry readings lacked passion and took it upon himself to create a weekly poetry show that incorporated competitive criteria. Uptown Poetry Slam debuted in 1986 at The Green Mill in Chicago, IL. He would enlist five random audience members to rate performances on a scale of 1-10. The competition gradually became smaller by combining the audience’s scores thus eliminating the lowest rated. 


Slam poetry guidelines may vary depending on the venue, but they all the follow this outline as recorded in Britannica:


  1. Anyone, regardless of age, race, sex, education, class, disability, gender, or sexuality, can compete.

  2. Poems can be about any subject but typically are supposed to be the creation of the performing poet.

  3. Poems are not to exceed a three-minute limit (with 10-second grace period); if they do, points are deducted.

  4. No props may be used when performing the poem.

  5. No musical accompaniment or musical instruments may be used when performing, but the poet is allowed to sing, clap, hum, or make noise with the mouth or other body parts.

  6. Poets may perform on their own or in groups with other poets.


Due to Marc Smith’s leadership, slam competitions have spread far and wide.

“Germany, Switzerland, France, England, Italy, Canada, Ireland, Madagascar, Singapore, and even the South Pole all have thriving poetry slam communities, modeled after The Uptown Poetry…”

Our community’s very own The Venue on 35th is home to the nationally ranked team, Verb Benders.




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