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poetry slam

Poetry slam is a fast-paced, winner-take-all competition in which members of the audience judge the competing poets on their performed poetry. It was invented in the 1980s by a Chicago construction worker named Marc Smith (SO WHAT) as a way of drawing a new listening audience to poetry.

The Boston Poetry Slam at the Cantab Lounge holds a poetry slam as part of every show. Unless noted, National Poetry Slam rules are always in effect: poems must be the poet’s own original work of three minutes or less, using no props, no costumes, and no musical accompaniment. Poems are scored Olympic-style by judges selected from the audience, with penalties levied for exceeding the time limit. For more information, see the guide for first-time slammers.

Poetry slams are listed on the schedule for the weekly show. All slams at the venue fall into one of the following categories:

  • open poetry slam (also known as an 8×8) — Open poetry slams are open to the first eight sign-ups. The format is a three-round head-to-head for a prize of $10 and a spot in the 8×8 Champion of Champions round. The winner may also qualify for the Team Selection Slams or the World Qualifier.
  • open speed slam — The three rounds of the speed slam have progressively shorter time limits of 3 minutes, 2 minutes, and 1 minute. Sign-ups, head-to-head format, prizes, and qualifications are all the same as the open poetry slam.
  • Champion of Champions slam — After eight open slams in the 8×8 series (get it?), all winners are invited back to compete for the Champion of Champions title.
  • theme slam — Theme slams are special exhibition events that require advance signup. Winners get eternal glory, and quite possibly a beer.
  • NorthBEAST Regional Slams — These friendly but competitive team slams are typically conducted to help New England NorthBEAST venues prepare for competition at the National Poetry Slam. All competitors must be associated with a team (no individuals sign-ups are accepted).
  • Team Selection Slams — Poets qualify for these by winning a single open slam within the qualification window. Team Selection Slams last three nights and require seven poems, and the top five finishers comprise the year’s Cantab Slam Team for the National Poetry Slam (NPS) in August.
  • World Qualifier Slams — Poets qualify for these by winning a single open slam within the qualification window. World Qualifiers last two nights and require four poems of differing time limits (1, 2, 3, and 4-minute). The top finisher qualifiers to represent the venue at the Individual World Poetry Slam (IWPS) in October.

Open slam winners should check the current 8×8 standings, World Qualifiers, and Team Selection slams to see when they are invited to return to slam again.