A poetry slam is a competition in which poets read or recite original work. Poetry slam began in Chicago in 1984 with its first competition designed to move poetry recitals from academia to a popular audience when American poet Marc Smith began experimenting with existing open microphone venues for poetry readings by making them competitive. The performances at a poetry slam are judged by a panel of judges, typically five, and usually selected from the audience, or sometimes judged by audience response. The judges usually give each poem a score on a scale of 0–10 (zero being the worst and ten being the best). The highest and lowest scores are dropped and the middle three are kept. The highest score one can receive is a 30 and the lowest one is a zero.
Poetry slams can feature a broad range of voices, styles, cultural traditions, and approaches to writing and performance. The originator of performance poetry, Hedwig Gorski, credits slam poetry for carrying on the poetics of ancient oral poetry designed to grab attention in barrooms and public squares.