What is Poetry Slam?

What is poetry slam?

Simply put, poetry slam is the competitive art of performance poetry. It puts a dual emphasis on writing and performance, encouraging poets to focus on what they’re saying and how they’re saying it. In competition, the poets are judged by members of the audience. Typically, the host or another organizer selects the judges, who are instructed to give numerical scores (on a zero to 10 or one to 10 scale) based on the poets’ content and performance.
Who gets to participate?
The vast majority of slam series registered by Poetry Slam, Inc. are open to everyone who wishes to sign up and can get into the venue. Though everyone who signs up has the opportunity to read in the first round, the lineup for subsequent rounds is determined by the judges’ scores. In other words, the judges vote for which poets they want to see more work from.

What are the rules?
Though rules vary from slam to slam, the basic rules are:
• Each poem must be of the poet’s own construction;
• Each poet gets three minutes (plus a ten-second grace period) to read one poem. If the poet goes over time, points will be deducted from the total score.
• The poet may not use props, costumes or musical instruments;
• Of the scores the poet received from the five judges, the high and low scores are dropped and the middle three are added together, giving the poet a total score of 0-30.

Are the rules the same from slam to slam?
Some slams have slight variations on the rules that Poetry Slam, Inc. has developed, but most adhere to these basic guidelines. The key rule in slam is that judges are selected from the audience, and those scores are used to determine who advances.

How often do they happen?
It depends on the community, but typically, slams happen on a weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly basis.

How does it differ from an open mike reading?
Slam is engineered for the audience, whereas a number of open mike readings are engineered as a support network for poets. Slam is designed for the audience to react vocally and openly to all aspects of the show, including the poet’s performance, the judges’ scores, and the host’s banter.

What can the audience do?
The official MC spiel of Poetry Slam, Inc. encourages the audience to respond to the poets or the judges in any way they see fit, and most slams have adopted that guideline. Audiences can boo or cheer at the conclusion of a poem, or even during a poem.

At the Uptown Slam at Chicago’s Green Mill Tavern,where poetry slam was born, the audience is instructed on an established progression of reactions if they don’t like a poet, including finger snapping, foot stomping, and various verbal exhortations. If the audience expresses a certain level of dissatisfaction with the poet, the poet leaves the stage, even if he or she hasn’t finished the performance. Though not every slam is as exacting in its procedure for getting a poet off the stage, the vast majority of slams give their audience the freedom and the permission to express itself.

What kind of poetry is read at slams?
Depends on the venue, depends on the poets, depends on the slam. One of the best things about poetry slam is the range of poets it attracts. You’ll find a diverse range of work within slam, including heartfelt love poetry, searing social commentary, uproarious comic routines, and bittersweet personal confessional pieces. Poets are free to do work in any style on any subject.

How do I win a poetry slam?
Winning a poetry slam requires some measure of skill and a huge dose of luck. The judges’ tastes, the audience’s reactions, and the poets’ performances all shape a slam event, and what wins one week might not get a poet into the second round the next week. There’s no formula for winning a slam, although you become a better poet and performer the same way you get to Carnegie Hall – practice, practice, practice.

How did poetry slam start?
In 1984, construction worker and poet Marc Smith started a poetry reading at a Chicago jazz club, the Get Me High lounge, looking for a way to breathe life into the open mike format. The series, and its emphasis on performance, laid the groundwork for the brand of poetry that would eventually be exhibited in slam.
In 1986, Smith approached Dave Jemilo, the owner of the Green Mill (a Chicago jazz club and former haunt of Al Capone), with a plan to host a weekly poetry competition on Sunday nights. Jemilo welcomed him, and the Uptown Poetry Slam was born on July 25 of that year. Smith drew on baseball and bridge terminology for the name, and instituted the basic features of the competition, including judges chosen from the audience and cash prizes for the winner. The Green Mill evolved into a Mecca for performance poets, and the Uptown Poetry Slam continues to run every Sunday night.

Does slam have a motto?
Former Asheville, N.C. slammaster Allan Wolf coined the phrase, “The points are not the point; the point is poetry” prior to the 1994 National Poetry Slam in Asheville. The phrase has become a mantra of sorts, reminding poets and organizers that the goal of slam is to grow poetry’s audience.
New York City poet Taylor Mali, a member of multiple championship teams, has modified the motto to read, “The points are not the point; the point is to get more points than anyone else,” but we’re pretty sure he’s got his tongue planted firmly in cheek when he says that.

What is the difference between slam poetry and poetry?
That’s not the right question to ask. There is no such thing as “slam poetry” even though the term “slam poet” seems to have gained acceptance. Those who use the term “slam poetry” are probably thinking more of loud, in-your-face, vaguely poetic rants. The more useful question to ask is “What is the difference between spoken word and poetry?” Spoken word is poetry written first and foremost to be heard. At any given slam, much of the work presented could be called spoken word.

Registration gives your venue all of the benefits of official affiliation with PSI EXCEPT the right to send representatives to the Individual World Poetry Slam Championships or the National Poetry Slam or to make a bid to host a future national or world level poetry Slam event. Everything else remains in effect: voting rights, GrantBack Accounts and all. “Certified” venues are Poetry Slams which have demonstrated through at least six separate pieces of evidence that they meet certain minimum criteria. They must be a part of an ongoing poetry reading series; they must hold at least six slams per year; they must have an audience base that averages at least 30 members; and they must either attend in person or send a voting proxy to the Spring SlamMasters’ Council meeting each year. Only Certified Slams can make application to attend iWPS or NPS. And only Certified Slams can bring a bid to host iWPS or NPS to either of the two official SlamMasters’ Council meetings every calendar year.

(Poetry Slam, FAQ)
For more information, visit http://poetryslam.com/faq/