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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 in Chicago as a way of drawing a new listening audience to poetry.

The Boston Poetry Slam at the Cantab Lounge currently holds a monthly open poetry slam in the 10:00pm feature slot. In general, poets should have three poems ready, be prepared to follow the theme (if there is one), and assume the following rules are 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.

If it’s your first time slamming, there is one important thing for you to remember: poetry slam is a BAR GAME that was invented to engage the audience. It was not designed to determine the value of your art, of art in general, or of any poet or artist. However, that is exactly what it seems is about to happen: after you perform your poetry, three or five judges will score how your art moved them on a scale of zero to ten.

Are you ready to be a good sport and bring poetry to the unwashed, possibly drunken masses? Great! Here’s what you need to know:

    • Competitions at the Boston Poetry Slam may be themed (in topic, time limit, genre, number of rounds, or other format) or open (restricted only by time limit). Select one that suits you by perusing the weekly schedule.
    • You must come with enough poems to win the slam, plus tiebreakers! If you have fewer than what the scheduled slam page says you need, please sign up for the open mic instead.
    • Most slams have a three-minute maximum per poem (there’s no minimum). You are responsible for knowing how long your poem is, and the host can’t tell you, so we recommend you time yourself at home to avoid receiving the dreaded Time Penalty. Some slams have shorter or longer time limits, so just read the format page carefully.
    • Your poem doesn’t have to be memorized. However, it’s worth remembering that the judges will have been instructed to take into account both your writing and your performance.
    • Other than the paper (or electronic device) your poem is written on, you may not bring anything else to the stage: no props, no costumes, no musical accompaniment. You may sing or stomp or clap, but you can’t use anything else to assist you other than the mic.

If you win, stick around for your prize, and make sure the host has your email address; that way you can be contacted later to come back for our invitational series.

Still have questions? Get answers from our FAQ. For specifics on the venue’s next slam, please see the schedule for the weekly show.