Poetry slams have come a long way since 1985, when members of the Chicago Poetry Ensemble started reading their work at the old Get Me High Lounge in Bucktown. Today there are poetry slams in every city large enough to support a coffeehouse or two. The National Poetry Slam began 14 years ago, when Chicago poetry-slam pioneer Marc Smith and some local colleagues went to San Francisco to face off against their Bay Area counterparts. When the event was last held in Chicago in 1999, 48 teams from around the U.S. and Canada took part; this year more than 250 North American spoken-word practitioners will be joined by noncompeting guests from France, Germany, and Switzerland.
The 14th Annual National Poetry Slam runs August 5-9 at various venues around town. Opening activities take place at the Chicago Cultural Center, Renaissance Court, 78 E. Washington, 312-744-6630. Preliminary and semifinal bouts take place Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at the Chopin Theatre, 1543 W. Division, 773-296-1500; Filter, 1585 N. Milwaukee, 773-227-4850; the Note, 1565 N. Milwaukee, 773-489-0011; Phyllis’ Musical Inn, 1800 W. Division, 773-486-9862; Subterranean Cafe & Cabaret, 2011 W. North, 773-278-6600; and the Vittum Theater, 1012 N. Noble, 773-278-7471. The championship final takes place at Navy Pier’s Skyline Stage, 600 E. Grand, 312-595-7437. Admission to preliminary and semifinal bouts Wednesday-Friday is $10 each or $35 for a pass to all three events. Tickets for Friday’s individual finals are $15. Tickets for Saturday’s finals are $35 and can be purchased at the Skyline Stage box office in advance or the night of the show or by calling Ticketmaster at 312-902-1500. All-event passes are $65; call 708-848-8007. Additional free daytime and late-night events–including open mikes, workshops, discussions, and showcases of European, Latino, Asian-American, Native American, gay and lesbian, and teenage poets–take place at various venues as shown in the listings below (which are subject to change). General information on the National Poetry Slam is available online at www.nps2003.com or by phone at 708-848-8007.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 5
Though the National Poetry Slam doesn’t officially start till Wednesday, an “open mike for rookies” takes place 2-5 PM at the Chopin Theatre, followed by a pretournament show and get-together with visiting European poets at 7 PM, also at the Chopin. Also, Phyllis’ Musical Inn hosts “The Poetic Happy Hour,” 4-6 PM.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 6
Opening day begins with a workshop for senior citizens at 10:30 AM. Then Marc Smith hosts a program of music and poetry with the Pong Unit and European poets at noon, followed by a ceremony featuring team introductions and a reading of a mayoral proclamation at 2 PM. All these events take place at the Chicago Cultural Center. Then Phyllis’ Musical Inn hosts “The Poetic Happy Hour,” 4-6 PM.
Slam Bouts, Round One
The first round of slamming–involving four-person teams judged by a jury of randomly selected audience members–gets under way at 7 PM at the Chopin Theatre (upstairs and downstairs); Subterranean (upstairs and downstairs); the Note; Phyllis’ Musical Inn; and Filter. The evening also includes a series of “After Bouts”: a “Prop Slam” at Subterranean (downstairs), an “Erotica Slam” at Subterranean (upstairs), and an open mike at the Chopin (upstairs), all beginning “around 11:30 PM.”
THURSDAY, AUGUST 7
Workshops, Slams, and Showcases
The Chopin Theatre hosts a day of auxiliary events as follows. 10:30 AM: Beginning Performance Workshop (upstairs) and Salon Discussion with European poets (downstairs). 11:45 AM: Memorization Workshop (upstairs) and Intermediate Performance Workshop (downstairs). 1 PM: Hip-Hop Slam (upstairs) and Slam Speaks Out (downstairs). 2:15 PM: Cover Slam (upstairs). 2:45 PM: LGBT Slam (downstairs). 3:30 PM: Head-to-Head Haikus (upstairs). 4 PM: Native American Showcase (downstairs). Also, Phyllis’ Musical Inn hosts “The Poetic Happy Hour,” 4-6 PM.
Slam Bouts, Round Two
The second round of slamming starts at 7 PM at the Chopin Theatre (upstairs and downstairs); Subterranean (upstairs and downstairs); the Note; Phyllis’ Musical Inn; and Filter. An open mike at the Chopin Theatre (downstairs) and a “Slammasters Slam” at Subterranean start “around 11:30 PM.”
FRIDAY, AUGUST 8
Workshops, Slams, and Showcases
The Chopin Theatre hosts a day of auxiliary events as follows. 10 AM: Slammasters’ Meeting (downstairs). 11:45 AM: Group Piece Workshop (upstairs). 1 PM: Asian-American Showcase (upstairs) and European Poets’ Showcase (downstairs). 2:15 PM: Group Piece open mike (upstairs). 2:45 PM: Latino Showcase (downstairs). 3:30 PM: 5th Wheel Slam (upstairs). 4 PM: Teen Slam (downstairs). Also, a youth performance workshop from 1-3:30 PM is held at Gallery 37, 66 E. Randolph, 312-744-8925. And Phyllis’ Musical Inn hosts “The Poetic Happy Hour,” 4-6 PM.
The narrowed field of slammers takes the stage at 7 PM at the Chopin Theatre (upstairs); Subterranean (upstairs and downstairs); the Note; and the Vittum Theater.
Team members who competed in the preliminary rounds meet mano a mano for the individual championship. Metro, 3730 N. Clark, 773-549-0203, 10:30 PM.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 9
A free book fair takes place 11 AM-4 PM on the second floor of Roosevelt University, 430 S. Michigan, 312-341-3500. The event features a panel discussion with European poets at noon in the Sullivan Room, followed from 1 to 4 PM by a series of spoken-word performances and signings (these include an African-American slam at 1 PM and a “Feminist Hiss Slam” from 2:30 to 4 PM, both in the Sullivan Room).
Shappy, a former local underground celeb now based in New York (where he runs the bar at the Bowery Poetry Club), returns to Chicago to host this free “gathering of nerdlinger slam poets.” Prizes will be awarded, and many participants will be hawking their books. (Shappy’s own published work includes Spoken Nerd and Little Book of Ass.) Quimby’s Bookstore, 1854 W. North, 773-342-0910, 2 PM.
Final Night Championship
The last poets left standing face off for five grand in prize money. Who says poetry doesn’t pay? Navy Pier, Skyline Stage, 7:30 PM.