Frequently Asked Questions

What’s a poetry slam?
Poetry slam is the competitive art of performance poetry, invented in the 1980s in Chicago. Poets perform their own original work and are judged Olympic-style by members of the audience.

How can I see a slam?
The Boston Poetry Slam presents a monthly poetry slam on Wednesday nights. Check the upcoming schedule to see when our next slam occurs.

What’s the difference between the open mic and the poetry slam?
Open mic performers have one stage opportunity to earn a round of applause. Slammers perform in a scored competition for a prize. For more information on performing in our slams, check out our guide for first-time slammers.

How do I get to be a judge for a slam?
Volunteer your services to the host! You may judge as long as you don’t personally know any of the poets in the slam and plan to stay to watch the whole thing.

I don’t live in Boston! Where else can I see a poetry slam?
There are strong poetry slam scenes all over the United States, Canada, and Europe, with more arriving in Central America and Asia every day. To find the slam nearest to you, try Googling “poetry slam” and your state, province, or nearest major city. You can also try checking the Slam Map or the events list at Poetry Slam, Inc.

How do I get to perform my poetry on the open mic?
On Wednesdays at the Cantab, you may sign up on the list when the doors open at 7:15: the open mic fills up very quickly, so we recommend arriving BEFORE door time.

Does my poem have to be memorized? Can I read a poem by another poet? Can I play my guitar?
No, yes, and we’d rather you didn’t. See our open mic rules to best plan your debut.

The open mic was full when I got there! Can I email or call you to sign up?
No, we do not accept open mic sign-ups in advance. You may send someone to sign up on your behalf.

How do I get to perform in a poetry slam?
Walk-in signups are accepted, but you may also sign up by email from the event page for a scheduled slam. Advance sign-ups get free admission to the show.

Will you read my poem to see if I should read it in the open mic or poetry slam?
Nope. We don’t review anyone’s work before the show; the only way to know if it can succeed is to try it out loud. Good luck and have fun!

I hear your Wednesday show keeps selling out! How can I make sure I get to see the open mic?
Doors open at 7:15 for the show and our capacity is limited to 100, which means that shows frequently sell out. We recommend you arrive no later than 8:00 to get in to see the open mic. If we have an exceptionally famous feature or an exceptionally large slam (check the schedule to see what to expect), you should expect a line to form before doors open!

I just want to see the featured event on Wednesday. Do I have to get there at 7:15?
Probably not. On most nights, you can arrive around 9:30 and get in during the break after the open mic. However, on nights with a well-known feature or a big slam, the venue stays packed all night and you should arrive by door time.

I’m under 21. Can I come to a poetry show?
Yes! The Wednesday night show at the Cantab Lounge is an 18+ show, so if you are 18, 19, or 20, you are welcome: you will need a photo ID and you will only be allowed in the downstairs bar on a Wednesday night.

I’m under 18. Can the Cantab make an exception? What if my parents are with me?
Nope, definitely not, sorry. The Cantab is kind enough to permit us to use their space for the show, so we follow their house rules! For more youth poetry shows in the area, please contact the Mass LEAP Collective.

Can I bring my class to a show? Do you offer group rates?
Your class is welcome at any of our shows as long as everyone is of appropriate age (see above), although we cannot guarantee room on any open mic. Our Wednesday show has limited capacity and we do not offer group rates; if you require your class to attend a Wednesday show, we recommend offering credit for a range of dates in case the shows sell out.

Is the poetry show in an accessible space?
Unfortunately, our poetry slam is held in a basement without elevator or lift access. If you are able to navigate stairs, but would like extra time or space to do so, or if you would like to talk to the show about particular seating or a possible carry-down, please email us directly. ASL interpreters are welcomed free of charge.

Can I hold a fundraiser for my non-profit at one of your shows? What about a release party for my literary magazine?
Probably not. We know there are enough important, worthy causes in Boston to easily book up all our show spaces for a year! But we also have spent two decades building a world-famous slam on the underground poetry circuit, and there are many talented local and touring artists interested in our stage time as well. We choose to partner only with causes that are very close to the heart of our community. If you would like to work with our hosting venue to build your own show, you may contact the Cantab Lounge directly.

Will your poets come perform for my class/college/bat mitzvah/supermarket opening/fundraiser?
Maybe. Please read our guidelines on how to book a poet.

Will you book [famous poet I love] to feature at a Boston Poetry Slam show?
We can try: email your suggestions to us! (If you are looking for a feature opportunity for yourself, please read our feature application guidelines.)

Where can I buy a book or CD by [poet x]?
The best way to buy product from a poet in person; many of our open mic standouts and features are self-published and that is the only place to get their work. If you want to find a poet you saw perform at the Boston Poetry Slam, please start with an internet search; if that comes up zero, you may contact us with a description of the poet you are trying to contact.

Why can’t I take photographs of the poets on stage? Why can’t I record audio or video?
Some of our poets sell their art for a living, and others are shy or just revealing new work for the first time. The Boston Poetry Slam is a show, but we are also a community and a space we strive to keep safe for vulnerability. Please respect the artists and refrain from recording inside the venue! If you want to record yourself or someone who has given you permission to record, be sure to read our recording policy first.

Why are those two dudes with the big cameras allowed to take photographs any time they want?
Those dudes are Marshall Goff and Rich Beaubien, and they are the official photographers of the Boston Poetry Slam. They have been helping us document the slam and open mic for years; we use their photos to help promote our events. If you don’t want them to photograph you, or if they are impeding your enjoyment of the show, tell them! They agree with us that the experiencing of listening is more important than the experience of documenting it.

Is the Boston Poetry Slam staff really responsible for a weekly feature and slam series, annual representatives to the National Poetry Slam and Individual World Poetry Slam, a surprising smattering of Massachusetts-wide shows, and the now-legendary 2011 and 2013 National Poetry Slams? Are you people superhuman or what?
Most likely. We do all these shows on a volunteer basis, so please thank a staff member if you enjoyed the show!

If you folks are all volunteers, who gets the money I pay at the door?
The Boston Poetry Slam proceeds are split between the bar, the featured artist(s), and the slam (if applicable). On special slam fundraising nights, we put proceeds aside to help send our representatives to the National Poetry Slam and the Individual World Poetry Slam.

How can I volunteer?
Please contact us if you have skills or time to offer to the Boston Poetry Slam. Hosting is by invitation only, but we do have a need for committed early set-up staff, slam management and scoring, and lots of behind-the-scenes promotional work, including press releases and mailing list management. Let us know what you can do!