The term slam poetry is used to describe the poetry performed at poetry slams.
It is often interchangeable with the term spoken word poetry.
There are groups that argue slam poetry and spoken word aren't synonymous; I'm not of that belief.
The one discrepancy I would point out is that 'spoken word' is often connotative of something religious. I'm not going there, not for the purpose of this blog. That's a can of freakin' worms.
Slam poetry (in MY view) is free-form poetry that utilizes poetic tools and devices to convey a story, message or feeling toward a particular issue or topic. OK, that's broad as fucking hell and super-generic. So let's get raw.
Ages range, ethnicities are different, cultural backgrounds vary, country of origin, sex, where they grew up - it all varies from poet to poet. Slam poetry is an art dedicated to you - whoever you are. Slam poetry is for everyone.
Now you know what slam poetry is and you've seen some examples. Next step...
What is a Poetry Slam
Poetry slams are the forum in which artists perform their slam poetry and spoken word pieces.
In general, they are competitive forums, though I've been to "friendly slams", where its poetry for the sake of poetry.
The competitive nature of the poetry slam is really what fuels the progression of the culture and movement.
The format of a poetry slam can vary, but here are some general bullet points on what you should expect.
Poetry Slam Format & Rules
- The most common type of poetry slam is the "open slam" (anyone can participate by showing up and signing up)
- The slam roster should include at least 6 poets, but often up to 20 or more
- Random audience members are selected as judges to rate the performers (usually about 5 judges)
- Poets perform in a random order and are rated by the judges on a scale of 0 - 10 (10 is awesome, 0, not so much)
- Each poet gets a 3 minute time slot for each piece. Time starts ticking once the poet makes eye contact with the audience (that's why you often see slam poets looking down, breathing, thinking and contemplating before they look up and deliver their piece)
- Scores for each poet are an average of the 5 scores given
- Each poet performs 2 pieces in round 1
- After round 1, each poet combines their two average scores. The top three scores move to the final round
- If there are more than 8 poets, a round-rubric style may be used, causing more rounds. So for instance if there are 10 poets entered, it may be 10 in round 1, 6 in round 2 and 3 in the final round, or 10-6-3
- The final round is comprised of each poet performing one more piece and being scored much like the first round. It's a winner takes all for the best score. If there is a tie, you'd better have another piece ready to go (you should probably have at least 5 pieces memorized before entering an open slam)
- In a poetry slam, its just the performer and the mic. No props. No musical instruments. No costumes or get-ups. Raw human emotion and a mic'd voice - that is all
I hope this overview gives you a good idea of what slam poetry is (to me), and what poetry slams are. If you're looking to broaden your horizons and gain some more knowledge of slam poetry and spoken word, here is some recommended content: