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What Is Slam, Anyway?
By Shilanda Woolridge, Austin writer, Austin-American Statesman

"There's a big difference between a poetry slam and an open-mic reading. The Poetry Slam originated in the mid-1980s, when a Chicago poet named Marc Smith came up with the idea of a poetry competition to entertain the Sunday regulars at a bar named the Green Mill (link to Marc Smith). To push it a little further, Judges were chosen at random from the audience to "score'' the poems. Several years and evolutions later, the phenomenon has caught on nationwide.

A poetry slam is like a lyrical boxing match that pits poets against other poets in a bout. During a nationals bout, there will be three teams of four poets as well as an individual poet taking turns performing their work. The teams can choose to perform a group piece during a member's slot, or that person can perform alone. Poets who perform alone have the opportunity to advance to the individual finals even if their team doesn't make it as a unit. Consequently, strategy comes into play when team members decide whose slot will be sacrificed for a group performance that may earn the entire team points. Five people randomly chosen from the audience before the bout will give each poem a score from 0.0 to 10.0, with 10 being the highest. The high and the low scores are dropped, and the three remaining scores are added. Each poet has a time limit of three minutes, with a 10- second grace period. After the grace period is passed, points will be deducted from the poet's final score.

Unlike theater or music performance, the poetry slam is a pared-down event because poets aren't permitted to use props, costumes or music. Yet the slams are able to offer the audience more.

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