This outtake from SlamNation takes place at the Slammaster’s meeting at the Portland National Poetry Slam in 1996. These used to be completely democratic meetings, that anyone competing in the National Poetry Slam could participate and vote in.
The quality is rough and the original is lost, but this mini-doc captures a turning point in the poetry slam movement: the birth of the non-profit organization Poetry Slam Inc (PSi). The piece shows that the organization was born out of the fear that some big corporation would trademark the phrase “Poetry Slam” and block the poets from using it for their events. (The reality of copyright law is that “Poetry Slam” had already become part of the common language and could no longer be trademarked for performance poetry events. So the fear was unfounded, and no one, not even PSi, owns the phrase “Poetry Slam.”)
For those who have the context and know the players, this is a study of subtle power plays. Participating in the early slam poetry movement was a profound, close-up lesson in politics. The stakes may be lower, but I’m convinced the dynamics are similar to any government or big corporation.
This is the beginning of the end of what I found most fascinating about the ad-hoc national community of slam poetry – that grass-roots anarchy which managed to generate spectacular events like the National Poetry Slam. When Poetry Slam, Inc. became an official non-profit and started referring to by-laws instead of family at meetings like this, something magical about the movement was sacrificed.