The History of Slam Poetry

Marc Smith


Slam Poetry hasn’t been around for as long as you would think. In November of 1984 Slam Poetry got its start by Marc Smith who is considered the founder of the slam movement and received the name ‘Slam Papi’.  In August 1988, the first poetry slam was held in New York City at the Nuyorican Poet’s Cafe and hosted by Bob Holman. The rest is history. For over 30 years now spoken word has expanded not only across America but the world reaching Europe, Africa and Asian Countries. Slam has been a way fro creating awareness on public issues that people may turn a blind eye to or are completely unaware of. However thanks to Mr. Smith we were given tools to save lives, create smiles and understand heartache.




Brave New Voices was founded in 1998 by Youth Speaks in San Francisco. Young poets from across the world come to perform at competitions every year, from Washington and all the way from Africa. What started as a 4 team slam expanded to 50 teams and has since become the largest ongoing poetry slam in the world. HBO understood that youth poets needed to be exposed to the masses. James Kass and others finally realized that this is a good idea. So in 2008, HBO first showed BNV to the world and did it again in 2010. Even though poetry has gotten massive attention it has still stayed underground. Yet somehow it is still considered a wide reaching art form that many people adore and watch in awe.




Def poetry was one of the first times poetry was put on display to the masses. It aired on HBO from 2002 to 2007 and  hosted by rapper Mos Def. Well known poets such as the Last Poets, Nikki Giovanni, Amiri Baraka and Sonya Sanchezand.  It even featured a performance from rapper Kanye West. After awhile James Kass and others came up with the idea that the youth needed to be represented as well. The series ran for 6 seasons and regarded as a break through for slam poetry and played a major role for making slam more mainstream.



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