Christopher Michael, a poet from Austin, Texas, performs at the 2016 Individual World Poetry Slam, a sister competition to the National Poetry Slam.

Courtesy Adam Rubinstein

The word “poetry” for some people might conjure up memories of opening a dusty book in high school. Not slam poetry though. Denver poet Suzi Q. Smith says the artform started as a way to get it out of the classroom.

“Slam poetry is interactive,” she says. “It’s a very high-energy event. The audience is absolutely a part of the show, and we encourage them to be vocal and highly reactive.”

That scene will be on full display as Denver hosts its first National Poetry Slam. It also happens to be the largest national slam ever. Eighty teams, with names like Mental Graffiti and Java Monkey, will compete — including three Canadian groups, one from Australia, and the 2016 champion, Baltimore’s Slammageddon.

Most teams start preparing in April and spend more than 20 hours a week working together leading up to the tourney, says Smith, executive director of the hosting organization Poetry Slam, Inc.

Denver poet Suzi Q. Smith is executive director of Poetry Slam, Inc., which hosts the National Poetry Slam.

Corey Jones/CPR News

“Once the pieces are written, it’s a matter of getting them memorized and rehearsed,” she says. “Some pieces are highly choreographed, it’s very intensive theater and sometimes dance.”

Three Colorado teams will take part in this year’s competition, including two from Denver that have won the National Poetry Slam before: Slam Nuba and Denver Mercury Slam. A Colorado Springs team called Hear Here, which won group piece finals in 2014, will also compete.

The Mile High City will now host the National Poetry Slam every five years, a role that Smith says will elevate the city’s poetry profile.

“Denver already has a pretty strong reputation as far as our poetry community goes because our teams have done so well,” Smith says. “Now it’s exciting to have a lot of people come here and learn why.”

Colorado Team Schedules

Slam Nuba:

  • Tuesday, Aug. 8, 7 p.m. at the McNichols Building
  • Wednesday, Aug. 9, 9 p.m. at the Clocktower Cabaret

Denver Mercury Slam:

  • Wednesday, Aug. 9, 7 p.m. at the McNichols Building
  • Thursday, Aug. 10, 9 p.m. at the Clocktower Cabaret

Hear Here:

  • Wednesday, Aug. 9, 7 p.m. at the Mercury Cafe
  • Thursday, Aug. 10, 9 p.m. at Coffee At The Point

The 2017 National Poetry Slam runs August 7-12 across downtown Denver: Preliminary Bouts schedule | Full Schedule