Berkly Slam


The Poetry Slam season is quickly reaching its peak, as all the Bay Area poetry slams are in the process of selecting their teams (4-5 poets, the top score-getters of the year). The newly-picked teams are about to be sequestered with their coaches- frenzily preparing for the National Competition (held this year in St. Louis) and the West Coast Regional Competition (held every year in Big Sur).

Background on the West Coast’s most exciting lyrical boxing match – The Berkeley Slam!

The Berkeley Slam is widely seen as the epicenter of the northern California Slam scene. Most well-known poets come to the event regularly, and up-and-comers see it as THE place to test their work. The event has won “Best of the East Bay” (East Bay Express 2003) and hosts “moving verse” (New York Times 2003) weekly. The venue is home to teams that are West Coast Regional Slam Champs in 2002 and 2003 and half the 1999 National Slam trophy rests above the bar with other sports trophies.

(In 1999, two Bay Area teams won first place- SF/Berkeley and San José. They opted to share the glory and prize for the first time in that competition’s history. The finals stage made such a splash, our poets appeared on 60 Minutes and The New York Times.)

Formerly a monthly event, The Berkeley Slam had the blessing of “too many” people in the venue, according to Charles Ellik, emcee of the event, making it hard to move and breathe. In 2000, in order to accommodate its beloved venue, The Starry Plough, the event went weekly. It consistently draws 100-300 every Wednesday. With the help of its Slammasters, The Berkeley Slam has helped spawn other regular slams (Second Sundays- SF, Tourettes Without Regrets- Oakland, The Marin Slam and many others) as well as spoken word events like The New Word Series and bEASTfest.