Date of Award

Summer 8-2018

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Kenneth Sherwood

Second Advisor

Mike Sell

Third Advisor

Christopher Kuipers


This dissertation identifies and illustrates the potential to extend and enrich slam poetry scholarship. Loosely defined, poetry slam is a competition in which a group of poets perform their original compositions in front of a live audience at a designated venue. While extant scholarship has insightfully treated some aspects of slam poetry, the limited scope of this body of work frames the genre in a falsely narrow manner. I argue that expanding the scope of slam poetry analysis can provide a more accurate and complete understanding of the genre. In service of these goals, I develop analytical approaches focused on defining features of slam poetry that have, so far, received insufficient attention, including performative and compositional contexts and the relationships between textual and performative modes.

Because the conventions of slam poetry influence its composition, performance, and reception, I establish these as necessary contextual features to consider in slam poetry analysis, demonstrating this need through an adapted application of Jerome McGann’s discussion of radial reading. I also identify the ways in which text and performance function symbiotically within the slam poetry genre, drawing upon Paul Zumthor’s theory of mouvance to discuss the significance of recomposition and versioning, ultimately arguing that slam poems are composed and recomposed both within and between modes. Inspired by John Miles Foley’s work with slam poetry in How to Read an Oral Poem, I use ethnopoetic transcription as a means of analyzing this inter- and intra-modality as a feature of the genre. Finally, I address the ways in which slam poetry analysis can be enriched through the identification of the genre’s commonalities with other, more broadly studied, genres and traditions. Using the African griot tradition, the Basque bertsolaritza competition, and the European improvvisatore tradition as examples, I illustrate how techniques from related genres and traditions can be adapted and applied to slam poetry to expand the scope of slam poetry scholarship moving forward.