What is Slam Poetry?
According to the Internets:
A poetry slam is a competition arts event, in which poets perform spoken word poetry before a live audience and a panel of judges.Wikipedia, “Poetry Slam”
According to us:
It’s a community of some incredibly eclectic people who are sharing their hearts and minds on stage. The scores are a great gimmick to bring out new people and push us to excel but the community and new ideas we are exposed to keep us coming back.
But what is the point of competitive poetry?
Oh you’re one of those pragmatic types who must understand why the wheel of time and space winds so ceaselessly through the night, devouring all your favorite socks, and you could never be sated by something whimsical like “We just like hearing the hearts and minds of a generation absorbed through a sort of reverse exfoliation right into our brains on a late Saskatoon evening.”
Well… in that case then there is a bit of a practical explanation for having competitions and that is to create a team that we can send to the yearly Canadian Festival of Spoken Word. Want to be on that team? Learn more about how you can get involved.
Slam Poetry Rules
- Poems must be original work that was composed by the speaker. You may repeat poems at subsequent slams, though we encourage you to write often and present fresh material.
- Two-poem requirement; a different poem for each round.
- Time limit of 3 minutes for each poem, plus a 10-second grace period. Poets will be docked points if they go over time.
- No costumes (a costume is anything you wouldn’t normally wear).
- No props (considered something you bring on stage that could be seen to enhance your performance. This could be reading your own work out of a published book or bringing in a seashell to display as you recite your poem about the beach).
- No instruments (you can beat box, sing, slap your legs or chest but you can’t use a guitar or harmonica or kazoo, for example).
- No nudity (remember, this is a consent positive space).
- No group performances unless we call for a group-theme slam.
- Sign-up is between 7:30 and 8 the evening of the slam and is first-come-first-serve. If the list exceeds 12 slammers, priority will be given to poets who have not participated before. Poets must be on time in order to slam – no admittance once the slam has started.
- In the event of a tie, the slam master will devise a tie-breaking lightning round where poets will have to perform on the spot. (ie: freestyle compliment battle, haiku off).
Rules for Judges
- Judges chosen will have the least amount of connection with the poets competing that evening.
- Judges will be chosen to represent a diversity of ethnicity, gender expression, age, experience, etc.
- All judges must simultaneously present their scores.
- Judges are encouraged to consider a range of criteria when scoring (content, use of creative language, performance style, ability to arouse feelings, etc), and apply their criteria consistently throughout the event.
Rules for Everyone
- Discriminatory language is not accepted. Anyone who makes offensive comments based on ethnicity, sex and gender, or sexual orientation will be asked to leave immediately.
- Talking / carrying on a loud conversation during a poets’ performance may prompt a slam master to ask you to leave.
- When arriving late or returning from the bathroom, we kindly ask you to wait until between poems to enter the room.
Slam Poetry Formats
Slam poetry comes in a number of different formats and at the end of the day it is fundamentally an excuse for us to share ideas, so whatever is most conducive to that is the way to do it. Some are competitive formats and others are just for fun. Here are some formats that we’ve held in the past and that may happen again sometime in the future.
Topic / Genre Slam
This is a slam about a specific topic or genre of poetry. Poems about love, your mother, the ocean, anything we deem the topic to be. Fail to be on topic and you fail to score big points.
Also sometimes known as the “Smart-funny-charming-people-who-will-one-day-take-over-the-world slam”. This format is essentially a slam night that only allows poems on Nerdy topics (video games, dnd, science, cartoons, comics, and the internet). Anything aside from something overtly nerdy will cause the offending poet to be banned from the venue for up to a minute and lose the exact value of π from their total score.
This format extends the time limit to 5 minutes and is contest of who can tell the best story. This is more of a prose over poetry night but it’s still a lot of fun. If you like laughing until you cry one minute and feeling chills through your spine the next, then this is the night for you to check out.
High School Flashback Slam
OMG, drama bomb! This slam format requires the poets to break out their old high school love letters, break-up letters, and all around sensationally poorly written poems. Only the most dramatic, poetically uninspired and poorly written works will be considered the champions of this format. The motto of this format is “If you aren’t embarrassed your* not doing it right!” (*clearly, we wouldn’t spell you’re properly)
“There are no rules at the Anarchy Slam!” – Actually, there are rules. The one rule of an Anarchy Slam is that you have to break at least one of the standard rules in Slam poetry (you’re encouraged not to be boring e.g. just break the time limit rule).
“Enter Haiku!” – Up to 15 competitors bring 15 haikus and battle head to head in a three round haiku battle to the death. Instead of random judges the entire audience is the judge. Everyone receives a paper plate at the start with a red side and a white side (each side represents a competitor). The battle is gruesome and leaves everyone’s head spinning in a 5-7-5 rotation for days after the event.
Micro Poem Deathmatch
Can you wrap the audience around your finger in under one minute in a head-to-head grudge match? This format is really similar to a haiku deathmatch except we drop the 5-7-5 rule for a really short time limit.
No mic. The audience forms a circle around the poet and the piece begins. At 3 minutes (no 10 second grace) if the poem is not finished the audience roars and the poet is silenced. This is raw and passionate like juicy, juicy poet mangoes all over your brain.
In this format the poets read other poets’ work. There are usually no scores for this and sometimes there is musical accompaniment. This is always incredible and a lot of fun.
One minute, two minute, three minute poems. Sounds easy, right? Wrong! Compelling one minute poems can be tough to write and by the time everyone is at 3 minute poems the audience attention span has been diminished to that of a gold fish. This format is only for the brave.
Two-Headed Giant Slam
This is essentially a poetry slam where two random people are given a period of time (one day – one week) to create team pieces to go head to head to head to head with all the other competing teams. Since everyone will have (hopefully) put in a lot of work into their pieces there will be no teams cut between the first and second rounds.