Slam Nation: The Sport of the Spoken Word

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The phenomenon of the poetry slam originated in Chicago in the 1980s, where young writers would perform their verses in competitive form at bars and coffeehouses before a live audience. Poets would be given three minutes to perform a piece they wrote themselves, and a panel of judges (chosen at random from the audience) would rate the poets and their delivery on a scale of one to ten. As spoken word performance gained a new popularity in the '90s, the poetry slam began to spread nationwide, and soon four-member slam teams from different cities were competing against each other around the U.S. Slam Nation: The Sport of the Spoken Word is a documentary shot at the 1996 National Poetry Slam in Portland, Oregon, in which groups of young performers from across the country compete with their streetwise, aggressively-performed verses in front of an enthusiastic audience. Director Paul Devlin, who has also directed sports programming for ESPN, focuses on the competitive nature of the performances onstage, and their more contemplative and philosophical sides offstage. One of the featured performers, Saul Williams, also starred in a dramatic feature about the poetry slam movement, Slam.

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