What is Poetry Slam

What Is a 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.
A poetry slam is an event in which poets perform their work and are judged by members of the audience. Typically, the host or another organizer select the judges, who are instructed to give numerical scores (on a zero to 10 or one to 10 scale) based on the poet's content and performance.

The National Poetry Slam is the annual slam championship tournament, wherein four-person teams from all over North America and Europe gather to compete against each other for the national title. It has become part Super Bowl, part poetry summer camp, and part traveling exhibition. Staged in a different city each year, the National Poetry Slam has emerged as slam's highest-profile showcase.

Generally, you may sign up for a poetry slam at the door on the night of the slam. But some big money slams may require advanced reqistration. Though everyone who signs up has the opportunity to read in the first round, poets may be eliminated based on judges' scores. In other words, the judges vote for which poets they want to see more work from.
NPS is held annually in August in a different city each year. Please see www.NPS2012Charlotte.com for more information.

The basic form is as follows:

1. Judges are picked randomly from the audience.

At nationals, they pick five judges from the audience and drop the high

and low scores. But having three judges is perfectly acceptable at a smaller event. To pick the judges in Berkeley, we hand out numbered programs at the door and hold a lottery. But you can also just walk around, and see who is willing to volunteer & who is not related, dating, or best friends with any of the competing poets

2. Poems are scored 1-10. Tenths are used to help break ties. Usually poems are scored half on performance, half on content. So a lyrical acrobat with no soul gets only a 5.

3. Poets get to perform one original poem. Often "themed" slams are held, including Dead Poet slams and Cover slams and Haiku slams, which bend the rules.

4. Poems should be under 3 minutes. At nationals, poets are given ten seconds grace period, then half a point is taken off their score for every other ten seconds over the time limit.

0:00 - 3:10 no deduction

3:11 - 3:20 loses 0.5

3:21 - 3:30 loses 1.0

3:31 - 3:40 loses 1.5

...and so on.

So a poet who gets a 27.6 and goes 3:42 loses two points for a final score of 25.6.-

5. No props, music, or costumes. (Singing is OK.)

6. Audience participation is one of the goals of a slam, and riled up audiences are encouraged.

7. Slams are usually started with a "sacrificial goat" or "calibration poet" to help the judges get a feel for their new job. This poet is not part of the competition. Judges should be instructed to keep this first score in mind for the rest of the night. Any poet they like better, score higher. Any poet they like less, score lower. This way we avoid "score creep" which is the result of timid judges who don't want to hurt people's feelings and keep giving higher scores. This isn't fair to the poets who have to go first.

8. The host should not bias the judges by giving special introductions to their friends or celebrities.

9. It's fairest to the poets if more than one round is held, though time constraints often limit this. If a second round is held, it should be in reverse order, so as to make up for any "score creep". Most slams cut down the number of poets each round to add drama.

The slam as we know it today coalesced in Chicago in the late 80's, under the creative guidance of a construction worker named Marc Smith. The idea spread across the country, evolving along the way. Every slam has its own traditions and aesthetic. In 1990, the first-ever National Slam was held in San Francisco, beginning a process of establishing "National Rules" and a network of communication that has made it possible for poets to tour the continent like one-person punk rock bands. There are well over 100 regular slams in the US, Britain, Australia, Germany, Israel, Denmark, and Sweden. For more info on Slam history, use your browser to find "The Incomplete History Of Slam."

A slam team is made up of four poets, and usually a "fifth wheel" or Alternate, and a Coach. To send a team to Nationals, you must hold at least 6 open qualifying slams. Those slams must be open to anyone, and be held with rules similar to national rules. You must certify your slam through Poetry Slam, Inc. The easiest way to contact them is through their website: http://www.poetryslam.com. They will send you their certification criteria. It costs $360 to certify and register a team for Nationals.

Vocalization Tips:

1. Stand up straight. You look more confident, the light hits you better,

you get better breath, sound better, and it gets your face and voice up over the heads of audience members.

2. Take several deep breaths before speaking.

3. Breathe deeply while speaking!

4. Lift your chin. You look more confident. You will breathe and speak

more clearly. Gives you more volume and range. Helps in projecting your


5. Move your mouth. Open your mouth wide. Over-extend your mouth

movements. BIG "O's" Wide "Ah's"

6. Speak from your diaphragm, from deep down. Avoid speaking with your mouth, throat, or nose. You sound more confident, project better, vocalize more smoothly, and can speak much much longer.

7. Try to minimize "popping" on the mic. Soften your "P's". Try pronouncing them almost as "B's" The crowd won't notice.

8. Try to minimize "hissing" on the mic. Soften your "S's". Try pronouncing them almost as "Z's" The crowd won't notice.

9. Know your mic. It is a musical instrument. Learn how to "play" it.

Test every mic before using, especially if the venue does not have a sound person to adjust the levels for you. Get a sense of the best distance to stand from the mic. Move in close to whisper, move away to shout. Practice using a mic both on a mic stand and and hand-held.

10. Avoid drinking alcohol before your set, especially if you have a long set or more than one set. It dries out the vocal chords QUICKLY and will cause your voice to break. Even one beer or shot will do plenty of damage.

11. Bring a water bottle with you to gigs. Keep you vocal chords wet. If you've been drinking alcohol, wash with warm water. Avoid cold water. It shocks the system.

What I think Slam is by Dani Eurynome

I have been involved with poetry slams since Charles hosted an SF slam at the Café du Nord (umm… 1997, I think?). I have had a lot of time to see slam and how it affects poets, poetry, and their work. In short, I think it is an amazingly positive way for any performance poet to improves her/his craft.

Charles thinks of slam as a gimmick. Sure, slam is a poetry competition that allows people in the audience to judge. Slam gets the audience numbers there (and gets them participating- not sitting like lumps!), and that could be construed as a gimmick. But from the poets' angle, it's more of a tool.

A slam hones the fine art of performance poetry more than any other poetry event (this is my opinion here folks- agree to disagree if you like) I've ever encountered.

Unlike an open mic, there are rules in slam about length. This makes the fine art of editing really keen in a slammer. How many poets have you seen that really have a few great ideas floating around in a mire of mediocre prose? Did you think to yourself- "agh! Learn to edit!" Slam does that for a poet.

Unlike an open mic, there are rules in slam against about props and background music. This rule makes a poet rely only on the strength and impact of their words, not a toy, a rhythm, or backbeat. They have to give of themselves. They have to work! It makes for a truly personal presentation that I feel connects the poet to the audience in a way that I have seen very few other poetry events do.

Unlike an open mic, they are being judged and are "competing" against other poets. A poet can learn a lot from their score. The longer and more often you slam, the easier it is to decipher what the difference between a 6.8 and a 9.5 for the same poem is. Oddly enough, while there are judging blips, the scores often do weed out the best poets- both for content and for performance. I myself have been disappointed when some of the most amazing poets don't make the cut. But most of the amazing ones do, leaving the mediocre & the newbies to work on thei craft.

Moreover, slams are a nationwide phenomenon. Slams occur regularly in most towns and cities across the US. It gets an eager audience there for the poet, no matter where they are. This means once you are a great slammer, you can "Slam your way across the USA" (see links) and meet great poets. Most are paying gigs! Be a poetry rock star! Do the Slam!


Brief History of Poetry Slam

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.


What I think a Poetry Slam is... by Charles Ellik

The poetry slam is a gimmick. Slams are a device used to draw in an audience of 'normal folk,' (meaning you, me, and the cabby that drove us here) and encourage them to actively participate in the performance of poetry. Either as a vocal audience member, or actually sharing their heart and mind on stage. Slams have the useful benefit of rewarding poets who connect with their audience by performing energetically, speaking clearly, and writing brief, potent, easy to grasp poems. Slams help give creative people incentive to find and hone the voice needed to express their ideas forcefully in front of a live audience.

Guidelines for Slam Judges

(A few written instructions for judges)

"So, you've been chosen to judge a Poetry Slam?"

You have been enlisted in the service of poetry. This is supposed to be fun, and we don't expect you to be an expert, but we can offer certain guidelines that might help to make this more fun for everyone involved, especially you.

We use the word "poem" to include text and performance. Some say you should assign a certain number of points for a poem's literary merit and a certain number of points for the poet's performance. Others feel that you are experiencing the poem only through the performance, and it may be impossible to separate the two. You will give each poem only one score. Trust your gut; and give the better poem the better score.

Be fair. We all have our personal prejudices, but try to suspend yours for the duration of the slam. On the other hand, it's okay to have a prejudice that favors the true and the beautiful over the mundane and superficial, the fascinating and enchanting over the boring and pedestrian. It's hard not to be influenced by the audience, but remember that in a quiet poem, the audience has no way to communicate what they're experiencing.

The audience may boo you, that's their prerogative; as long as the better poem gets the better score, you're doing your job well. Be consistent with yourself. If you give the first poem a seven and the other judges give it a nine, that doesn't mean you should give the second poem a nine unless it's a lot better than the first poem. In fact, if it's not as good as the first poem, we count on you to give it a lower score.

Although the high and low scores will be thrown out, don't ever make a joke out of your score thinking that it doesn't really matter. A poem about geometry does not automatically deserve pi as a score. Nor does one about failing a breathalyser test deserve a 0.08. Your scores may rise as the night progresses. That's called "Score Creep." As long as you stay consistent, you're doing your job well.

The poets have worked hard to get here; treat them with respect. They are the show, not you (although there could be no show without you). All of us thank you for having the courage to put your opinions on the line.


1998 Nationals in Austin

Each poet will have three minutes to perform one poem of their own construction. No props, costumes, or musical accompaniment are allowed. Each poem will be scored by our panel of five judges which have been chosen from the audience. We'll drop the high and low scores. Each poet's individual score will be added to the cumulative total for the team that poet represents, as this is a TEAM competition. We'll keep a running total and let you know how it turns out.

JUDGES: You will score each poem on a scale of 0.0 - 10.0, considering both content and performance, so 10.0 would be an earth shattering text performed perfectly, and 0.0 would be the worst poem you could imagine performed by someone who shouldn't quit their day job . We encourage you to use decimals, as this helps avoid ties (use no more than two decimal places only, please.) And, we IMPLORE you to remain consistent with yourself. Give the poem the score that YOU think it deserves -- don't be influenced by the audience or the other judges.

Some final notes:

1. Poets must check their ego at the door.

2. Some of the performances you will see tonight may involve multiple members of the same team. This is perfectly legal [NATIONALS ONLY].

3. Audience -- give your attention to the poets while they are performing. They have traveled a long way to be here for you tonight.

4. Audience -- after the poem is finished, we encourage you to respond to the poets OR the judges in any way you think is appropriate.

5. Above all else, EVERYBODY HAVE FUN!!!

At A Slam:

1. Arrive early.

2. Get yourself a glass of room-temp water, or bring a water bottle (in a non-bar venue).

3. Introduce yourself to the MC. Ask them if there is anything you should know for the show. Get on their good side if possible. They can unconsciously help in many ways.

4. Test the mic, learn how to adjust it.

5. Go onstage and find the "Sweet Spot." Where the spotlight will hit your face, where the audience can best see you. Whereyou want to be when you perform. Where the acoustics are best, especially if there is no sound system. If you are reading off the page, make sure you have enough light.

6. Familiarize yourself with the rules, how many rounds, ect.

7. Know when you will perform.

8. Plan your route up to the stage, especially if the room is packed and difficult to move through. Often, the judges have made up their mind before you've even started your poem, so be conscious of your non-verbal behavior.

9. Know who the judges are, perhaps their biases.

10. Get a feeling for the audience, what they want. What you want to say to them.

11. Take a walk, stretch, get your blood pumping. Rehearse your piece. Don't perform "cold."

12. Be ready near the stage when your name is called.

13. Adjust the mic to suit your height.

14. Pause and breathe before beginning.

15. Make eye contact, stand up straight.

16. Don't pander to the judges, but don't ignore them, either.

17. Be energetic, even if your energy is directed toward calm or blues.

18. Be prepared for interruptions.

19. Be PRESENT. Often, the greatest challenge of a performance is making a well-rehearsed poem fresh all over again.

20. Vary the intensity of delivery.

21. Leave stage quickly and smoothly.

22. Do not be overly concerned with scores, especially in the first round.

The Really Really Official Rules

circa 1998, Austin

"I have to submit to much in order to pacify the touchy tribe of poets" - Horace, 14 B.C.

This revised collection of rules was tweaked and debated in Chicago at the 1998 Slammasters' meeting. Loopholes were closed, and gray areas were made either black or white. In the process, new loopholes and gray areas were probably created. But the rule book was never intended to put an end to the healthy controversy that has always been an integral part of the slam. It will always be an attempt to agree on the wording (if not the spirit) of the rules of the national poetry slam as well as the consequences and penalties for breaking those rules. All we can hope for is to make the playing field as level as our trust in one another will allow.


Poems can be on any subject and in any style. Each poet must perform work that she has created.

No props: Generally, poets are allowed to use their given environment and the accoutrements it offers - microphones, mic stands, the stage itself, chairs on stage, a table or bar top, the aisle - as long as these accoutrements are available to other competitors as well. The rule concerning props is not intended to squelch the spontaneity, unpredictability, or on-the-fly choreography that people love about the slam; its intent is to keep the focus on the words rather than objects. Refer to Section V (Definitions) for further clarification on what is and is not a prop. Teams or individuals who inadvertently use a prop (for example, a timely yet unwitting grab at a necklace) can be immediately penalized two points if the emcee of the bout deems the effect of the violation to have been appreciable, but sufficiently lacking in specific intent. A formal protest need not be lodged before the emcee can penalize a poet or team in this way, however, the decision of the emcee can be appealed after the bout. Teams or individuals whose use of props in a poem appears to be more calculating and the result of a specific intent to enhance, illustrate, underscore, or otherwise augment the words of the poem will be given a retroactive score for the poem equal to two points less than the lowest scoring poem in that bout. This deduction, which can only be applied after a formal protest has been lodged against the offending team, will not be made by the emcee, but by a special committee assembled by the host city.

No musical instruments or pre-recorded music. No costumes. Further clarification of this rule was considered, but rejected as being niggling and ultimately unnecessary. The rule stands as is: No costumes.

Sampling: It is acceptable for a poet to incorporate, imitate, or otherwise "signify on" the words, lyrics, or tune of someone else (commonly called "sampling" in his own work . If he is only riffing off another's words, he should expect only healthy controversy; if on the other hand, he is ripping off their words, he should expect scornful contumely.

The No Repeat Rule. A poem may be used once during the preliminary and semifinal rounds and once again on the night of the finals (in either the team finals or individual finals, but not both). This applies only at the National Slam.

Performances will be timed by a timekeeper.

The Three-Minute Rule. No performance should last longer than three minutes. The time begins when the performance begins, which may well be before the first utterance is made. A poet is certainly allowed several full seconds to adjust the microphone and get herself settled & ready, but as soon as she makes a connection with the audience ("Hey look, she's been standing there for 10 seconds and hasn't even moved"), the timekeeper can start the clock. The poet does not have an unlimited amount of "mime time." Poets with ambiguous beginnings & endings to their performances should seek out the timekeeper at each venue to settle on a starting & ending time. After three minutes, there is a 10-second grace period (up to and including 3:10.00). Starting at 3:10.01, a penalty is automatically deducted from each poet's overall score according to the following schedule:

Time Penalty

3:10 and under no penalty

3:10.01 - 3:20 -0.5

3:20.01 - 3:30 -1.0

3:30.01 - 3:40 -1.5

3:40.01 - 3:50 -2.0

and so on [-0.5 for every 10 seconds over 3:10]

The announcement of the time penalty and its consequent deduction will be made by the emcee or scorekeeper after all the judges have reported their scores. The judges should not even be told that a poet went overtime until it is too late for them to adjust their scores. (That's Arthur Rimbaud.)

Is this a web page or is this a book?

1. What is Poetry Slam

2. Brief History of Poetry Slam
3. What I think a Poetry Slam is... by Charles Ellik
4. How to run a slam . . . by Charles Ellik
5. Guidelines for Slam Judges from PSI
8. What I think Slam is by Dani Eurynome
9. The Really Really Official Rules (from the Austin website)
10. An Incomplete History of Slam


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?

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 to Win?

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 stronger poet and performer the same way you get to Carnegie Hall — practice, practice, practice.


General Performance Tips:

1. Have Fun.

2. Stay true to your muse and yourself.

3. Know the rules. Both the actual competition rules, and the unspoken rules of the venue.

4. Rehearse, rehearse, rehearse. If you were a professional musician, you'd be at it for several hours every day. At least put 15 mins into your performance every day, especially before an important gig. Consider it exercise, just like lifting weights. It doesn't have to be brilliant or meaningful every time. Just keep rehearsing.

5. Don't rehearse "wrong." Don't learn your mistakes or bad habits. Practice just like you're performing. Pretend a crowd is responding. Keep track of your time.

6. If you try to out-do someone, there will always be somebody bigger and stronger. If you simply be yourself, nobody can do it better. I believe that the poet who is MOST themselves will get the greatest points based on character alone.

7. Wear clothes that emphasize your strengths. This IS a performance, after all! Don't be afraid of overdressing. Dark or bold colors are often best. Avoid pure white unless you need to make a point it washes out in the spot lights and overloads cameras. But do not be contrived or untrue to yourself. Emphasize your uniqueness without alienating the audience.

8. Observe, observe, observe. Find new ways of approaching your work and interacting with the audience. Ask questions.

9. Find a "master" and study them. Read their work and take what you like from it. Observe their movements on stage and emulate what works for you. Listen to their vocalizations and the "music" of their speech. Try reciting your work in their "voice," as if you were an actor. Find new a new master as soon as you've exhausted the last.

10. Cherish criticism, but consider the source. "The best a person's advice can get you is where it has gotten them." Find friends whom you respect and will be honest with you, then ask them about your performances. Don't be surprised when a big visiting poet was too busy selling chapbooks to pay any attention to the details of your performance.

11. Tape yourself.

12. Perform in front of a mirror.



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Basic Strategy:

1. Have fun. Have fun before taking the stage, on the stage, and off the stage. People will notice and reward you.

2. Be a good sport. Better to let some asshole win on a technicality this time and leave with the audience on your side.

3. Be confident. Audiences respect humility, but love confidence.

4. Know the rules, when you'll be reading, and who you follow.

5. If you break a rule, do it with STYLE.

6. Be friendly with the organizers, bring friends to be in the audience. Consider that the prize may be $20, but the people you meet can often hook you up with paying gigs, even if (or maybe because) you lost a slam.

7. Watch the judges and consider what they are scoring high. Consider what their biases may be.

8. Do your best work FIRST. If you don't advance to the next round, it won't matter what you still have left in reserve.

9. Consider who you are following, and what style of poem they are most likely to do. Pick a couple likely responses.

10. Consider who follows you, and if you have a poem which "shuts them down" before they even speak.

11. Know who you are, or at least what "character" type you are most likely to be perceived as. Be aware that a poet before you or after you may use a character that "trumps" yours. I liken this to a deck of cards; a King trumps a Jack, an Ace (or team piece) can trump a King.

12. The audience will always struggle to "peg" you as a person or archetype before they listen to the poem. Time they spend trying to figure out what makes YOU tick is time taken from your poem. Consider ways of dressing and non-verbal behaviors which will help them to recognize who you are or wish to be perceived AS QUICKLY as possible.

13. Lead the audience, do not Boss the audience.

14. Show, not Tell.

15. Audiences want to be told what they already know. They want their expectations to be filled, especially regarding acting out your archetype. How you choose to remain true to yourself is what makes you an individual. If you can convince an audience what they really want to know is something only you have, something unexpected, then you've got it in the bag.

16. You can only continue to "One Up" a particular subject/style/poem twice before scores begin to drop.

17. After a topic has been overdone, or three poets in a row have attempted to "One Up" each other, then this is the perfect time to "Flip" the energy and do something completely different. Like a comedic piece after three heavy political pieces.

18. If the poet ahead of you bombed, then avoid doing the same kind of poem, even if your version is much better.

19. Vary the level of intensity of delivery during your performance.

20. Honesty beats artifice, sincerity beats sarcasm, drama beats comedy, team beats individual, emotion beats reason, politics beat sex. Most of the time. Again, if you can make yourself the exception, your reward will be that much greater.

21. Most slams are popularity contests. Some slams are about choosing the competitor most worthy to be called "Poet." Some slams will only let you win if you are an embodiment of what the audiences itself wishes to be. Other slams are unspoken auditions for gigs. Tryto figure out what the TRUE prize of a slam is, and proceed accordingly.
Dismissing the unspoken prize can set you apart from the crowd- for better or worse.

22. You can never lose if you learn something.

A Continuation of the Really Really Official Rules. Part II.


Team Eligibility. Teams must be chosen from an ongoing slam or reading series open to all poets regardless of age, sex, race, ability, appearance, or sexual orientation. Team members must be chosen through some form of competition; how that competition is structured is up to the local venue or slammaster so long as anyone who considers herself to be a part of the community fielding the slam team has the competitive opportunity to join it. Because some smaller/younger/more rural communities may not be able to assemble a team in this way, the host city for the national championships may at times accept a team not chosen through competition, but this should be the exception, not the rule, and every effort should be made to maintain openness.

Team Pieces. Duos, trios, and quartets (otherwise known as team, group, or collaborative pieces) are allowed, even encouraged, so long as all of the primary authors perform them. Refer to Section V (Definitions) for further clarification on primary authorship. The writer/performer who offers up his individual spot on stage in order to accommodate a group piece must be one of the primary authors of that piece. Thus, a poet whose only appearance on stage during a bout is as part of a team piece must be one of the primary authors of that team piece.

A group piece with more than one primary author does not have to be used in the same primary author's slot each time it is performed in the course of the competition. But a group piece with only one primary author must only & always be performed during that writer/performer's slot. Group pieces may not be repeated in subsequent years unless all of the primary authors are present and on a team with one another again. The score of a team piece will be credited to the team as a whole, not to the primary author who offered up her individual turn on stage to accommodate it. Because team pieces do not receive rank scores in the bouts in which they are used, they do not affect the rank scores of individual poets in the same bout. In other words, even if a team piece receives the highest score in a bout, it will not receive the rank score of 1. The rank score of 1 goes to the highest-scoring individual poet of the bout

A poet may render herself ineligible for consideration in the individual competition if she opts to use her team piece during a round in which poets are competing both as teams and as individuals. A team piece may be substituted for any or all of the members of a team in any bout. Provided all other rules regarding team pieces and repetition are followed, one team could use four group pieces in one bout.

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Judging. All efforts shall be made to select five judges who will be fair. Once chosen, the judges will: 1) be given a set of printed instructions on how to judge a poetry slam (see below for an example), 2) have a private, verbal crash course by the emcee or house manager on the do's and don'ts of poetry slam judging (where they can ask questions), and 3) hear the standardized Official Emcee Spiel (rewritten and tweaked each year by the host city of the national competition), which, among other things, will apprise the audience of their own responsibilities as well as remind the judges of theirs. Having heard, read, or otherwise experienced these three sets of instructions, a judge cannot be challenged over a score. Complaints, problems, and/or disagreements regarding the impartiality of the judges should be brought privately to the attention of the emcee or house manager BEFORE the bout begins. Having heard and understood the complaint, the house manager or emcee will then make a decision (also privately) that cannot be further challenged

Scoring. The judges will give each poem a score from 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest or "perfect" score. They will be encouraged to use one decimal place in order to preclude the likelihood of a tie. Each poem will get five scores. The high and the low scores will be dropped and the remaining three scores will be added together. Team scores will be displayed or otherwise publicly available during the bout.

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Emcees. The emcee will announce to the audience each poet's name and the team he is from. She will also require that all judges hold their scores up at the same time and that no judge changes his score after it is up. She is expected to move the show along quickly and keep the audience engaged and interested in the competition. Since she must be completely impartial, any witty banter directed at individual poets, poems, teams, or scores is inappropriate. Even genuine enthusiasm has to be carefully directed. The safest thing to do is encourage the audience to express their own opinions.


Team Piece: a poem performed by two, three, or all four members of the same team.

Primary Author(s): Those writers/performers whose contributions to a particular group piece are so fundamental that they have at least as much of a right as any other writer/performer of the piece to claim ownership of it at any time. Primary authors must perform their pieces; if a writer/performer is watching other members of his team perform a group piece, then any contributions he might have made to it must not be significant enough to constitute primary authorship.

Bout: a competition between two or more teams.

Order: the schematic that determines the order in which teams will read.

Prop: an object or article of clothing introduced into a performance with the effect of enhancing, illustrating, underscoring, or otherwise augmenting the words of the poem.

Rotation: when each team's first poet has read in a bout, the first rotation is over. There are as many rotations in a bout as there are poets on a team.

Round: a complete set of bouts in which every team that is still eligible to compete does so. Eligibility to compete in successive rounds may be contingent upon success in earlier rounds.