An incomplete history of Slam

Dynasties in competitive poetry, just as in sports, come and go. Chicago's early burst of presence migrated with Michael Brown and Patricia Smith to Boston where local poets, some veterans such as Richard Cambridge and some newcomers such as Danny Solis, were quick to embrace slam as their own. From there, other cities in New England, such as Providence and Hartford, discovered slam for themselves and expanded the circuit into a modest local network of popular poetry venues.( Pictured: Cambridge in 1995, and Solis in 1992; both members of Boston's winning national slam team from 1992, shown in appearances at the Green Mill, Chicago )

[ photo: Richard Cambridge and Daniel Solis ] All this activity only served to deepen the competitive aspects of slamming as the slam aesthetic acquired a life of its own outside Chicago. Boston's politicized attitude toward slam, which some have dubbed poetry activism, has left a permanent influence on slam which was not part of the original Chicago aesthetic, a style to which Chicagoans largely adhered well into the millennium. The difference between the two cities was immediately visible in the 1992 national slams. Here is a list of who won what, where they won it, and when it happened:

1990 - in San Francisco

  • Chicago, team champion.
  • Patricia Smith ( Chicago ), individual champion.
1991 - in Chicago
  • Chicago, team champion.
  • Boston, team 2nd place.
  • Patricia Smith ( Boston ), individual champion.
  • Lisa Buscani ( Chicago ), 2nd place.
1992 - in Boston
  • Boston, team champion.
  • San Francisco, team 2nd place.
  • Lisa Buscani ( Chicago ), individual champion.
  • Patricia Smith ( Boston ), 2nd place.
1993 - in San Francisco
  • Boston, team champion.
  • New York, team 2nd place.
  • Patricia Smith ( Boston ), individual champion.
  • Lisa Buscani ( Chicago ), 2nd place.
1994 - in Asheville, North Carolina
  • Cleveland, Ohio, team champion.
  • Boston, team 2nd place.
  • New York, team 3rd place.
  • Gayle Danley ( Atlanta ), individual champion.
  • Carl Hancock ( New York ), 2nd place.
  • Reggie Cabico ( Huntington, NY ), 3rd place.
1995 - in Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • Asheville, North Carolina, team champion.
  • Cleveland, Ohio, team 2nd place.
  • Boston, team 3rd place.
  • Patricia Smith ( Boston ), individual champion.
  • Wammo ( Austin, Texas ), 2nd place.
  • DJ Renegade ( Cleveland, Ohio ), 3rd place.
1996 - in Portland, Oregon
  • Providence, Rhode Island, team champion.
  • Patricia Johnson, individual champion.
  • Taylor Mali, 2nd place individual.
1997 - in Middletown, Connecticut
  • New York City / Mouth Almighty, team champion.
  • Chicago / Green Mill, team 2nd place.
  • Cleveland, Ohio, team 3rd place.
  • Boogey Man ( Cleveland, Ohio ), individual champion.
  • DJ Renegade ( Washington, D.C. ), 2nd place individual.
  • Glenis Redmond-Sherer ( Greenville, S.C. ), 3rd place individual.
1998 - in Austin, Texas
  • New York City, team champion.
  • Dallas, Texas, team 2nd place.
  • Los Angeles, team 3rd place.
  • Reggie Gibson ( Bellwood, Illinois ), individual champion.
  • Derrick Brown ( Laguna Beach, California ), 2nd place individual.
  • Brian Comiskey ( Boston ), 3rd place individual.
1999 - in Chicago
  • San Francisco and San José, California, teams tied for co-champions.
  • New York City / Union Square, team 2nd place.
  • Oakland, California, team 3rd place.
  • Roger Bonair-Agard ( New York City / Union Square ), individual champion.
  • Reggie Gibson ( Chicago / Green Mill ), 2nd place individual.
  • Gayle Danley ( Washington, D.C. ), 3rd place.
2000 - in Providence, Rhode Island
  • New York / Urbana, team 1st place.
  • San Antonio, Texas, team 2nd place.
  • New York / Nuyorican, team 3rd place.
  • New York City / Union Square, team 4th place.
  • Shane Koyczan ( Vancouver ), individual champion.
  • Bryonn Bain ( New York / Nuyorican ), 2nd place individual.
  • Al Letson ( Atlanta ), 3rd place individual.
  • Iyeoka Ivie Okoawo ( Boston ), 4th place individual.
2001 - in Seattle, Washington
  • Dallas, team 1st place.
  • Los Angeles, team 2nd place.
  • Seattle, team 3rd place.
  • New York City / Urbana, team 4th place.
  • Maya del Valle ( New York / Nuyorican ), individual champion.
  • Beau Sia ( New York / Urbana ), 2nd place individual.
  • Shawn V. ( Seattle ), 3rd place individual.
  • Morris Stegosaurus ( Seattle ), 4th place individual.
  • Angela Boyce ( Sacramento, CA ), 5th place individual.
  • Mama Blue ( St. Louis, MO ), 4th place individual.

2002 - in Minneapolis, Minnesota

2003 - in Chicago, Illinois

2004 - in St. Louis, Missouri

  • Hollywood, California, team 1st place.
  • Denver, team 2nd place.
  • Dallas, team 3rd place.
  • Berkeley, California, team 4th place.
  • Jaylee Alde, Berkeley, California 1st place individual
  • Storyteller, Hollywood, California, 2nd place individualk
  • Kimberly Brazelwell, Columbus, Ohio, 3rd place individual
  • Andrea Gibson, Denver, 4th place individual

2005 - in Albuquerque, New Mexico

  • Albuquerque, New Mexico, team 1st place
  • Charlotte, North Carolina, team 2nd place
  • Fort Worth, Texas and Hollywood, California, tie for team 3rd place
  • Anis Mojgani and Janean Livingston, tie for 1st place individual

It's worth noting that both Patricia Smith and Lisa Buscani opted to remain out of the competition for the 1994 Slams. This helped clear the way for new people to compete and thus rise to their own potential. There does remain some continuity, though; the path begun by Chicago and Boston was picked up by 1994 Cleveland team captain Ray McNiece who himself was on the champion Boston team in 1992. Daniel Solis performed with and captained Asheville's winning team in 1995; Solis has gone on the record as being a student of the original Chicago style. So while the names and cities change from year to year, and while Chicago itself didn't place a finalist for a few years, there remained certain threads of aesthetic continuity to the Green Mill, threads which lasted through a volatile a decade of growth in slamming.

Toward the millennium, however, a new pattern emerged which took this Boston-Chicago rivalry aside and set it more in an historical place. New York (specifically Manhattan) and North American west coast cities began to offer more winning teams. In 2000, Shane Koyczan was crowned the individual national slam winner, and was the first poet ever to take the title as a citizen of a country other than the USA; Koyczan is from Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. Two powerhouse teams from New York also set upon an in-town rivalry. Poets from Urbana, the Nuyorican Poets Café, and related ventures consistently placed finalists and champions from 1997 through 2001.

Chicago's 1997 team included: Sheila Donohue, Daniel Ferri, Jason Pettus, Maria McCray. For 1998, the Bellwood, Illinois team (suburban Chicago)included: Reggie Gibson, Chuck Perkins, Daniel Ferri, and Kent Foreman;the Green Mill team included: Bob Chico, Maria McCray, Dennis Jose, andJoanna Marshall. The 1999 Green Mill team included: Reggie Gibson, Sheila Donohue, Maria McCray, and Ken Green. In 1999, Chicago began fielding a second team from Mad Bar, which generally relied on younger poets. The 2000 teams included from Mad Bar, Tara Betts, Lucy Anderton, Marlon Esguerra, and Shappy Seasholtz; and from the Green Mill, Mike Kadela, Tyehimba Jess, Maria McCray, and Reggie Gibson.

For more about the 2000 Nationals in Providence, consult the NPSY2K web. See Slam magazine for additional details.

copyright © 1999-2001 Kurt Heintz