What Is a Poetry Slam:
In case you don’t know, Poetry slam is the term used for the competitive art of performance poetry. The Poetry Slam concept originated in the mid-1980s, when Chicago poet Marc Smith came up with the idea of a poetry competition to entertain the Sunday regulars at a bar named the Green Mill. Initially intended as a means to heighten public interest in poetry readings, the slam concept caught on and now poetry slams have evolved into an international art form emphasizing audience involvement and poetic excellence.
In the majority of slams, organizers stage weekly or monthly events in a public space, such as a bar or cafe. Poets wishing to compete sign up with a host, and the host finds five audience members who wish to serve as judges. Poets must follow a series of rules, for example, in most slams, the poems must be of each poet’s own construction; the poet may not use props, costumes, or musical instruments; and if the poet goes over the time limit (generally three minutes plus a 10-second grace period), points are deducted from his or her score. Encouraged to factor both content and performance into their evaluations, judges score each poet on a 0.0 to 10.0 scale. Top four scoring poets move on to the next round. In most cities, a slam series culminates with a final slam at the end of the season to determine which poets will represent the city at the National Poetry Slam held every August. This year the 2001 National Poetry Slam was held in Seattle, Washington. (For more information on poetry slams, please visit: www.poetryslam.com, www.nationalpoetryslam.com, www.norcalslam.org or www.poeticdream.com)
Although there are many different types of slams, the district wide slam sponsored by California Poets In the Schools is set up so that it is less fierce than the slams taking place in the urban club scene; however, this doesn’t make our less exciting, just friendlier. Our poetry slams are set up like a lyrical boxing match that pits one high school team against another in a three round bout.
Each high school team consists of 3-8 competing poets, and the poets from each team take turns reading their poems (Point Arena student 1, Boonville student 1, Point Arena student 2, Boonville student 2, etc.) till all the students from each school team has read once. Each student poem is judged by an impartial panel (typically 3 to 5 judges who are also published/performing poets or publishers look for originality, content, oral delivery) according to a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest. At the end of the round, all the individual team member scores are totaled, for a team score. This entire process repeats two more times. At the end of three rounds, a match total is determined, and the school with the highest point total wins; in addition, the top five individual scores are determined, and these students are recognized.