An incomplete history of Slam Poetry

Foreword:The Chicago Poetry Ensemble co-wrote and -performed poems fornon-theater audiences using encounter theater tactics. Thefour most extensive productions the Ensemble created were"The Whitechapel Club", "Circus Chatter", "The Lady", and "Psychopoetica".

At one point or another, the following people were members: Karen Nystrom, writer and performance poet;John Sheehan (author of "Elsewhere, Indiana"); Jean Howard (author of "Dancing in Your Mother's Skin" and later chairmanof the National Poetry Video Festival); Mike Barret, poet (then a studentat the University of Illinois, Chicago); Dave Cooper, performance poet;Rob Van Tuyle, performance poet; Anna Brown, performanceartist; Joyce Caskey, performance poet; Nancy Oparka,performance poet; M. J. Marchnight (then current director ofAxe Street Arena) performance poet; and Dick McCracken, actor.

Oparka stayed with the Ensemble only through its firstproduction, Circus Chatter. Her whereabouts today areunknown. Marchnight also worked within the Ensemble onlythrough Circus Chatter, but was featured later as anindividual poet at the Green Mill and offered her Axe StreetArena as a rehearsal space for later Ensemble projects.Ensemble members and assistants were drafted from the peopleat hand around the Get Me High ( Cooper, Mary Shen Barnidge,Ron Gillette, Jean Howard ) or elsewhere. "I found NancyOparka and Dave Cooper at the Skokie library in 1985," saysSmith.

From the core unit of the Ensemble, threads extended into other arts and intoother groups of artists. Marc Smith's arrangement of a critical mass of performing poets, which reached its first peak with "The Whitechapel Club," seeded the associations which continue to the present.

copyright (c) 1994, 1996 Kurt Heintz