Skip to main content

Slam Poetry Enthusiast

Insider Info

The beat of poetry has moved society for hundreds of years. If you don't think poetry is important anymore, go revisit Shakespeare, and then listen to modern rappers. Try reading some nursery rhymes, listening to political chants or checking out some folk songs. You'll find that it's all about the words and how they are spoken. And while poetry changes, it never goes away. Today, slam poetry is one way to get your words heard.

Slam poetry is basically a competition -- about poetry! It's part poetry and part performance. Poets gather to perform their work at an event called a "slam."

The slam is judged by certain members of the audience, who are chosen at random. These audience judges decide who moves forward in the competition.

This audience participation is part of what makes slam poetry by, and for, the general public. Those involved in slam poetry say the broad appeal is rewarding.

"I often have audience members coming up to me, and I know it is true in other poets' experiences as well," says Danielle Gregoire. She is the co-director of a poetry collective. "They tell me that a particular poem said exactly what they had been feeling. The poetry connects us and lets us know that we are not alone."

Although it's difficult to pinpoint an exact date, it's generally accepted that the first slam was held in Chicago in the mid-1980s. The first national slam occurred in 1990. Over the years, slams have spread to many cities across North America and spawned a group of organizations as well as national competitions.

Slam organizations are now stepping up to address the need for slams aimed at young performers. Since many slams are held at venues that aren't for young people, like clubs and bars, it was necessary to create an environment where young voices were welcome.

And no one knows the impact that words can have on youth better than Gregoire. "I taught slam poetry to 250 Grade 7 students in 2005," she recalls. "There was this one student who went above and beyond and wrote a full three-minute poem, when I only asked for a minute. He shared his school experience and how he felt like no one noticed him. He performed it, memorized, and he amazed the class with his talent.

"Today, when I had him come into another Grade 7 class that I was teaching, he credited this one poem with getting recognized by his classmates. Watching him perform reminded me how powerful words can be, and how much they can accomplish. There are no barriers: not gender, age, race, religion or education."

As Gregoire says, almost anyone can participate in slam poetry. There are no requirements beyond being able to write the words and perform them before an audience. It is, however, not a pastime that is likely to turn into a regular pay check for most people. Although some poets have reached a point where they are paid for their written or spoken work, even those poets insist that's not what slam -- or any other form of poetry -- is about.

"There are opportunities," says Gregoire. "But it shouldn't be about the money. Once it becomes about the money, you start to write for the people paying you and stop saying exactly what you believe. The poor poets are the honest ones."

At least those financially poor poets can still participate in their passion. For the most part, getting involved in slam poetry competitions is relatively inexpensive. You need something to write with, and something to write on -- pen and paper, or a computer, for example. Some organizations charge membership fees, but being a member is not a requirement. In addition, some slams charge performers to compete but many don't. You might, however, have to pay a door charge at the venue. All in all, this is one of the least expensive hobbies you could take up. It's also one of the easiest to begin.

Getting Started

"Write, write, write!" says Debora Marsh when asked how to get started.

Marsh knows about words. By day, she works at a high school in the English department. She is also the director of the Women of the World Poetry Slam. She suggests sharing your poems with people, but not just anyone. Choose trusted friends or family members who will be honest with you about your work.

"I'd also buy a DVD so I could watch what the experts do and how they do it," she continues. "See what worked. After you get an idea of what it is, go to a slam and watch a couple times before you take the mic. Then practice a lot, out loud with any movements you plan to do. The practice will make your performance clean and smooth."

Gregoire couldn't agree more. "I recommend writing," she says. "Write everything and anything. Then go out to open mics and perform. Once you get comfortable on stage, then you can find a slam and start slamming. It's an art form best learned from observation."


Poetry Slam, Inc.
An organization with a mission to promote the "performance and creation of poetry"

Young Chicago Authors
Host a teen poetry slam

Power Poetry
Put your poetry skills to work and maybe win a scholarship

Poetry Slam FAQs
Get all the facts about slam poetry

Back to Career Cluster


  • Email Support

  • 1-800-GO-TO-XAP (1-800-468-6927)
    From outside the U.S., please call +1 (424) 750-3900


Powered by XAP

OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.