General FAQ

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.


What is a poetry slam?

A poetry slam is a competitive event in which poets perform their work and 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Who organizes slams?

Slams are typically organized by poets interested in cultivating poetry in their communities. The vast majority work on a volunteer basis, and the price of admission typically goes toward either keeping the show running or toward special projects, like funding a slam team's trip to the annual National Poetry Slam.

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How often do they happen?

It depends on the community, but typically, slams happen on a weekly, bi-monthly, or monthly basis.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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How do I find a slam in my city?

You've come to the right place. Check out ourvenue listto find out if there is a poetry slam being held somewhere near you. Most major cities in the United States, as well as a number of college towns and mid-sized cities, hold regular poetry slams.

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What if there's no slam in my city and I want to start one?

We recommend taking a field trip to a couple of different slams in your region, and getting a feel for putting the rules in action. Once you have a venue lined up, you'll need a host and a scorekeeper, and in many venues, you'll need your own door person. Some slams divide those essential tasks among as few as two people.

Once you've got your slam series rolling, you can register your slam with Poetry Slam, Inc., and be included on this very Web site. To be certified, and thus eligible to send a team to the National Poetry Slam, you must meet certain criteria, including having a slam open to all, having run at least six slams during the course of a year, and having an average audience of at least 30 people.

The definitive anthology on slam, Poetry Slam: The Competitive Art of Performance Poetry, is full of helpful essays and examples of successful slam poems.

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What is the National Poetry Slam?

The National Poetry Slam is the annual slam championship tournament, wherein three to five-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.

Check out the NPS FAQ for more information on the National Poetry Slam, including its history, rules, etc.

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How do I become a PSI Member or Certify My Venue?

First you'll need to create an account on our site. Then you should become a member.

To certify your slam venue you'll need have an account on this site, be a PSi Member, and fill out the Venue Certification form. That form becomes available once you are a member.

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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.

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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.

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Why should I register my venue?

There are many advantages to running an "official" Poetry Slam. Among them are:

  1. The right to make application to bring a team to the National Poetry Slam.
  2. The right to make application to send a representative of your venue to the Individual World Poetry Slam Championships.
  3. The right to participate in the SlamMasters' listserve where you can access the best promotional and organizational minds in the organization.
  4. The right to use the "Certified" or "Registered" PSI seal of approval in your ads or fliers.
  5. The right to attend and vote in the official business meetings of the SlamMasters' Council twice a year and help develop important PSI policies and rules.
  6. The right to establish a GrantBack account in the name of your venue to aid in the fundraising efforts your venue might have to bring individuals or teams to competitions, to help fund trips to SlamMasters' Council meetings or even to support local efforts to bring featured poets to your local audience.

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What is the difference between Venue Certification and Registration?

All venues which are run by a SlamMaster who is a current member of PSI, who have signed the Equal Opportunity Statement and who have paid the registration fee are considered "Registered." 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.

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What is Certification "evidence?"

Generally anything that will show the ongoing nature of your Poetry Slam. Evidence can take the form of copies of articles in the local press, fliers you use to promote your show, a website URL or copies of advertising. We have even received copies of video tapes of events and used them as evidence in the past.

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How long does Certification or Registration last?

Any Poetry Slam may register or certify at any time. That process is good through the next National Poetry Slam and is renewable before January 1 after that NPS. New registrations and certifications are good for at least one year. Renewals are available at a reduced fee. Renewals after January 1 are subject to the higher fee.

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How do I get started with Certification?

To certify your slam venue you'll need to have an account on the site, become a member, and finally pay the certification fee here on our site.

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