Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Speech Communication

First Advisor

Michael S. Bowman


Poetry slams are competitive poetry performances that have drawn increasing public attention in the last decade. Despite their widespread popularity, few people outside the poetry slam community understand the nature of the slam's appeal. This study examines the organizational culture of poetry slams, and attempts to define the characteristics that contribute to its meaning, value and success for those who participate in them. This study describes four poetry slams that took place in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, during the months of June and July, 1999. An ethnographic approach is used to describe these events in terms of three variables: (a) the event field in which these performances are embedded; (b) the poets who performed in these events; and (c) the individual performances that occurred during these competitions. This study proposes that the Baton Rouge poetry slams are unique cultural events that reconnect speaking and writing in a social context in order to engage a wider audience than typical poetry readings. It examines how the organizational structure for these events is designed to include a broad range of poets and audience members. It also examines how the structural features of the slam event field combine to create this unique forum. Finally, it shows how the context for these performances influences the outcome of the event.