Poetry slams gained national prominence in the 1990s after originating in the mid-1980s at Chicago’s Get Me High Lounge. These contests, driven by judges and audience members, pit wordsmiths against each other in a competitive round of performance poetry. Poetry slams are boisterous events that sometimes incorporate elements of hip-hop rhythms and themes into the performances. Try these tips to win a poetry slam.
- Hone your skills. Try out a variety of poems, reciting everything in your arsenal, from confessional pieces and political commentary to angry rants and risqué humor. Give plenty of readings before participating in your first slam.
- Perform like you mean it. Poets and poems bursting with vitality, anger and other strong emotions win high scores at poetry slams. A subdued or shaky performance won’t cut it with slam judges or audiences.
- Set your timer. Slam poets are judged on the length as well as the content of their performance. Poems three minutes or under are given the highest scores. Longer performances are penalized by half a point, up to three points for poems over four minutes.
- Engage your audience. Poetry slam audiences critique poets during the performance, not after. Heckling, foot stomping and booing are common if a poet is deemed unsatisfactory by the audience. If you handle hecklers with a witty phrase or comeback, you may win back the audience.
- Make lots of friends in the poetry slam world. Get to know slam organizers and judges, and bring lots of your own friends to poetry slams. The more fans you have, the better chance you have of winning a slam, since the contests are based on audience and judge approval.
Tips & Warnings
Do use poems that address oppression. Angry or socially conscious poems are popular at many poetry slams.
Don’t use props or costumes at a poetry slam. They are forbidden by slam rules.