Saint Paul Team Wins National Poetry Slam

Adrian Versteegh

A team representing Saint Paul has won the twentieth annual National Poetry Slam (NPS) in West Palm Beach, Florida. The Minnesotans beat out sixty-seven other teams from across North America to claim the two-thousand-dollar grand prize on August 8. Rounding out the final standings were, in order, teams from Albuquerque, San Francisco, and New York City.

Invented by Chicago poet Marc Smith in 1984, slam poetry is judged through audience participation, with a randomly selected jury rating each performance on a ten-point scale. Since the first National Poetry Slam in 1990—when only two teams participated—the event has grown into the largest group poetry competition in the world. “The hard work of hundreds and hundreds of performance poets at National Poetry Slams over the past two decades has completely changed the perception of poetry across the world,” said NPS codirector Henry Sampson in a press release. “Poetry is a living, breathing language used to share notes on the human experience, and it’s an amazingly entertaining form of creative expression.” In May, President Obama hosted the inaugural White House Poetry Jam, which featured performances from a number of past and present NPS contenders.

This year’s competition saw a further reduction in the stigma once attached to performing published poetry, as team members declaimed both with and without the aid of written materials. According to Sampson, the success of events like the NPS means that the appeal of slam poetry extends well beyond the boundaries of the spoken word genre. “In the next two years you’ll see a great crossover,” he told the Palm Beach ArtsPaper. “We have slam poets who are getting their MFAs.”