Spoken Word Poetry

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Spoken Word Poetry

Pointlessly stiff term for poetry read aloud with stand-up comic timing and aggression."
-- New York Times, 1994

In the late 1980s, early 1990s, an interest in the Beat movement led to "Open Mics" and "Poetry Slams" at coffe houses and bars across America. Open Mic (sometimes mispelled Open Mike) is short for 'Open Microphone' where local amateur poets and/or musicians get to take turns displaying their talents.

According to the 2000 edition of the American Heritage Dictionary a Poetry Slam is "A spoken-word poetry competition." Chicago's Green Mill, former hangout of gangster Al Capone, is often credited with the creation of the 'Poetry Slam' in 1986.

Usually the competition consists of a set number of poets who compete in a first round, by reading/performing a single poem. Five judges rank the poets on a scale of 1-10, 10 being the highest. Some venues allow negative numbers if the judges decide it is truly horrible poetry, or a truly horrible performance.1 A set number of poets with the highest scores advance to the second round, where they read another single poem. If there are enough competitors, there may be a third round. Any prizes are awarded at the end of the final round to those with the highest point totals.

The lowest score from a judge, and the highest score are discarded to partially eliminate potential personal biases. Many venues encourage the audience to applaud and jeer the performers. In a poetry slam, however, the performance is of equal, if not greater importance, than the poetry.

Poetry Slam Inc was officially created in 1999 by the hosts of the National Poetry Slam (US). Their website contains a lot of information including:

  • The history of The Slam
  • Venues in the US, Canada and Europe
  • Upcoming National Poetry Slam Competitions
  • Forums and Chatrooms
  • And more
1However, negative numbers are not allowed in the official PSI rules

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