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                    POETRY SLAMS FAQ

Here are my answers to some of the Frequently Asked Questions I get regarding poetry Slam events.

 

1/. WHAT IS A SLAM?

Slam poetry is basically performance poetry in which the poets are put in direct competition to one another. Poets are usually given a strict time limit (set according to how many poets are involved but often a few minutes) and invited to give their poem(s) to an audience, and then judged by either a randomly selected group of judges or a guest poet who acts as a judge. The format may vary with different kinds of slam events. Winners get prizes, others don't - The important thing is to entertain the audience.

I'm a regular Slam participant, often entering Manchester England's Rosie Lugosi's Creatures Of The Night poetry Slams at The Green Room venue, and any other slams I come across. They are fun, competitive and often involve poets of tremendous calibre, and er... me.

Slams are a great way to reach a wide local audience, and many people find time to talk to you afterwards too, they are friendly and of huge value in poetry terms, as poetry is best spoken and read and recited aloud anyway - it is about how words sound as much as how they are written, so tone and inflection in delivery becomes as important as it is for a song writer, I would sooner see poets in slams than read them off the page, though that is in itself a marvelous thing - to really understand slams you should definitely attend one somewhere, - I reckon most people will be hooked easily and eager to perform themselves.

2/. Is all live performance poetry regarded as 'slam poetry'?

No, by no means. It is common for poets to read or recite work in public outside of a competitive arena. A Slam is a competition where poets are trying to better one another in the eyes of a set of judges , and not just reading their work to other poets or a general public audience. Many bars, jazz clubs, folk clubs, etc may invite poets to give informal or impromptu readings between the musical performances. Such events are entertaining without being competitive.

Poets may also present poetry before a poetry circle, often comprising of other poets and sometimes of people who appreciate poetry. Poets may also attend creative writing groups where a piece of poetry (or prose) is read out and receives honest constructive criticism from the listeners. Again this is not a competitive Slam situation.

3/. Do the poets say Fuck too much at Slams?

Slam poets needn't shock - some certainly do use the F word more than necessary, but most are good enough poets not to have to unless necessary - I have nearly 200 poems of various levels of merit, only in about three have I used the F word so far, strictly when I think it is relevant. Generally if sensitive to worries you may be offended, check with the organisers first as to whether there is a lot of adult content. Generally if no children are to be present, i.e., if it takes place at night or in a bar, take it as read someone will swear a bit or even a lot. If you are presenting poetry use vulgarity as and when the poem calls for it and don't read a poem out if you think someone in the audience may be offended by it. Anti-Christian jokes about nuns don't go too well at a Catholic Club, etc. It's just common sense. You may find that if your material is good enough you will stand out from the crowd if you go on after several poets have used swearing and bad language but you have managed to be entertaining without doing so.

Audiences don't measure talent by number of swearwords per sentence. It isn't compulsory to either swear or not too.

4/. DOES A BAD PERFORMANCE MEAN THE POEM ITSELF WILL BE REGARDED AS POOR QUALITY?

Not necessarily, though a good performance requires a good poem in the first place. No one can take a bad poem and make it sound good.

Some poems are best read from the page, generally a slammer won't read out things like Haiku or poems with fancy shapes, i.e.,

POETRY SLAMMERS

E U
R D J U D G ES

F O R I U

O E S

R N O T

M C

TH E

(Poetry slammers perform for the audience not just the judges).

A poem set out on the page like that would not be possible to perform at all, but most poems are fine, - of course, nervousness can make a good poem come across unclearly, it is important to practice and rehearse.

Non-performing at all is just like having a song as a lyric sheet, - you expect the Beatles to sing, not hand you a book of lyrics, performance poets take the chance of fluffing lines, as we do on occassion. I have sometimes. you may have a chance to start again, sometimes it is possible to get through despite it, even the best ice skaters fall over sometimes. In many ways the live arena of a slam makes it more daring and dangerous as well as exhilarating - it takes practice, it takes nerve and generally it goes well, - it is like any form of acting or stage performance, know the stuff well, project the voice, use the mike right, etc. The main trip up can be lighting, if you read off the page the lighting can be bad when you get up as it is designed to put you where the audience see you so you find you can barely read your poems, print them big and bold or memorise them thoroughly - A slam can be a tightrope walking act, without a safety net - it's all part of the fun and the rights to your poems stay with you. Reading a poem out live does not exclude you from ever getting it into print. so you can still publish your poems anyway and get the best of both worlds.

The Two following comments were posted one after the other on one discussion group thread where I started a debate on Poetry Slams.

a/. I've seen lots of 'Performance Poets'. They all suck! It's the triumph of ego over talent.

(And in response to that)

b/. To be fair ... I have seen a lot of performance poetry ... some of it sucks and some of it is good ...

Of course, they may both be right or neither of them. My experience is of performance poets having very high standards. I often feel like a contestant on The Weakest Link with my material. I have the greatest respect for anyone willing to do it, and all the more so when it is done so well. Egotism, but of course. Anyone who writes a poem and shows it to someone else is looking for some ego-massaging. We like to please other people. As children we expect our parents to like our crayola blob pictures marked Mummy and Daddy even though they look nothing like the people depicted. We do the school play and want the audience to tell everyone we did well. We like it when we receive a good grade at school. We like it when someone we want to dance with takes us up on the invitation and so on through the rest of the stages of a relationship. Poets are simply writers who want an audience. If I publish a poem in a book, I have no real idea who is reading it or buying it. It is of course terrific that it has sold at all, and that my work has been included. However I am in several anthologies and collections where no biographical data is given about me. The poems included like the others there, just give my name at the end of the work. The reader has no idea if I am real or a pseudonym. I might as well to all intents and purposes leave it an anonymous work in many cases. In a slam or any other reading of a poem I have written, I get to look my audience in the eye. I am often flattered and egotistically delighted when someone remembers and comments on a piece I last performed months before, as they still remember it and associate it with me. That kind of feedback does not happen for poets who stick to written words only and never meet the people they wrote for.


5/. There seems to be a terrific snobbery between "page" poets and "performance" poets which works in both directions ...

I think that may be true. Slam poets tend to write shorter more accessible work, which people and audiences can relate to. A slam poet doesn't have time for ambiguity and obscurity would kill a slam poem dead in the water. Page writers can be more experimental, and make more use of free verse. A slam poet will often make more use of traditional poetic forms, especially rhyme and will use references to pop songs and other cultural imagery. Slammers may also use more topical material, writing about a subject which is still an issue in the world at large, such as, (at the time of writing this) the anti-terrorism war between the US/Britain and Afghanistan's Taliban Regime. Poetry about that for a book could be dated by the time the book goes to press, (often six months to a full year on) while a slammer could write about it and perform it within days while the issue is still hot.

Page poetry can have the freedom to involve longer work, while slam poets with limited time allocations cannot do something the size of Paradise Lost (Milton) or The Ancient Mariner (Coleridge). The two mediums need not be mutually exclusive and can complement one another greatly.

6/. Where and when did Poetry Slams start?

The exact origin is well known. The year was 1985 and the founder was Marc Smith, a Chicago based construction worker who introduced Slams as a variation on the live open mic poetry format. The Slam competition was first introduced in The Get Me High Lounge and eventually became a regular Sunday Night weekly competition at the Green Mill, a jazz bar once frequented by Al Capone. The original venue still runs these events to this day, and is also seen in most major world cities now. The expression 'Slam' derived from the card game Bridge and from Baseball.

7/. HOW COMPETITIVE IS A POETRY SLAM?

This varies from Slam to Slam, with some being fiercely competitive, others less so. The higher prize money at stake in some events makes the event itself tougher. More modest events attract poets who are performing from love of the art rather than as a means to make money. The informal events are therefore more audience friendly.

A heavily competitive Slam (especially in the US) will have rigidly dogmatically adhered to rules of protocol and procedure , and the final prize will only be attained through regional trials, heats, a series of knockout rounds, a quarter final eliminator and a semi-final before a final head to head play off, making the events as demanding as a sport tournament for many poets. Slammers may be playing as individuals or as members of a selected team, often of four players, or poets, which may use transfer deals, sackings, forced resignations and signings from other teams to improve their chances, just as football teams do.

Other slams may be more laid back and disregard rules altogether. I was at one where the compere announced we could have four to five minutes each instead of the usual three, so the event finished very late indeed. Some comperes may not worry if a poet goes over the three minutes by a few seconds ( though may if a poet tries to take several extra minutes) while others will set watches to make sure the time is rigidly adhered to. To quote from http://www.suncrumbs.org/slam/slam.html " In order to compete in the Grand Slam, a poet or spoken word artist must participate in one of eight qualifying slams. All of the scores will be logged. The top 12 scoring poets from the season will compete in the Grand Slam on May 15th for a slot on
Team Pittsburgh 2001. Judges vary from month to month, so it is in the best interest of the poet to compete in as many slams as possible. Sometimes, judges score great poets low. Other nights, the judges are hand out 10's like water. Competing in multiple slams helps a poet have a better chance to make it into the Grand Slam."

8/. YOU SAY A POETRY SLAM IS LIKE A SPORT. HOW MUCH SO?

Too much so in some US cases. The very word Slam comes from Baseball. Audiences are often rowdy, cheering loudly for their favourite poets and booing and heckling the opposition, which in a poetry event is pretty well unforgivable to me. UK Slams are much more individual poet oriented than team driven, and audiences will listen to the poets, which is what it is all about anyway when all is said and done. For me participation in a Slam is having a part in an overall presentation of quality poetry for a receptive audience. US slams are sport. UK slams are less so.

 

9/. DOES A SLAM GIVE ITS AUDIENCE GOOD VALUE FOR MONEY?

Extremely good value. Take Creatures Of The Night, the event I often take part in myself. Ten slammers on average with three minutes each, enough time to present up to 30 poems between them, plus several poems by the hostess, Rosie Lugosi, a selection of open mike poems by about half a dozen non-slam poets who get a chance to do a poem each and an invited guest poet doing a 15 to 20 minute slot too, with a total of up to fifty poem a night on average. That is twice as much as you would get in the average first collection poetry book from Faber & Faber for a fraction of the cost, so a Slam gives a great deal of poetry to the public. Economic value wise a Slam is priceless.

10/. TEAM BASED SLAMS? HOW DO THEY WORK?

I would personally always favour individual poetry performance over team presentation formats. It would only take one player's poem to be ill received to bring down the other 3 players potential scores badly, and a poorer poet could ride to glory on the success gained by his or her team mates too. I would rather stand or fall on my own merits. The poetry arena is not a level football field or a baseball stadium, where team work would be essential. Some poets may write a piece for two or more voices, but that is not what team work-poetry involves in Slam competitions.

In a Slam the team (usually of four poets0 go on, one after another, each getting their three minutes, (12 minutes in total for a team of four) and they are then judged as a team, even though each may perform well or badly much more individually. The system is really there for ease of judging as it is quicker to move through the poets as a group rather than as a lot of individuals, so the judging doesn't get too boring for the audience between poets performing. Individual poets can come across as anarchic and subversive, while teams can end up having to appear conforming and co-operative to one another. A pot in a team is constantly under pressure, first of all having to satisfy even his team mates before even having to face the public or the judges he performs before. Give me an individual arena any day.

11/. Are Poetry Slams trademarked?

Yes, Marc Smith has patented the official Slam formula for American Slam competitions, though many performance poetry contests are called slams, just as many vacuum cleaners not produced by Hoover are still called Hoovers by their owners. Many Slams change the rules or break the rules as and in accord with the wishes of their comperes. In reality there are now many kinds of poetry Slam, and that is something I welcome.

12/. WHAT EXACTLY ARE THE RULES OF A POETRY SLAM?

As stated above, these can vary but the standard ones are

A/. Three Minutes per poet at the microphone. B/. Judges are chosen randomly from the audience and must not be competitors themselves or close friends/relatives of participants in the Slam. C/. Poets must perform without musical accompaniment or musical instruments of any kind. D/. Poets must not use props of any kind. E/. Poets must not wear theatrical costumes or fancy dress outfits of any kind, but must wear normal workwear or evening wear.

 

The Three minute time slot makes sense as there is often a lot to get done and the venue may only be hired for a limited time slot. It would be unfair for a poet to lose a chance to perform because other poets took ten or fifteen minutes. Judges being independent also makes sense, and occasionally a guest judge or team of judges may be used instead of audience members The remaining rules however can be problematic. Music is understandable, as a poem that uses a set of instruments becomes a song lyric rather than a poem. Judges would be then torn between marking a poem or a song and a good tenor base or soprano vocal range. Some poems are however closely related to songs in their own right, parodying the words of a composer, as with Wendy Copes skits on Gilbert and Sullivan and what if a poet sings without musical accompaniment? Surely a song without backing instruments is a form of performance poetry? Much poetry is closely related to folk and filk music in its roots. Some more musically oriented poets may find themselves excluded from competitions or disqualified from slam contests altogether.

. Props - Some poets, if their poem mentions a gun, may bring a toy or replica gun on stage with them, or may try to get a laughter response by producing some childish toy or sex- aid, or pop a balloon, etc, and such activity is frowned on, and rightly so, as the poem should not require clowning and mimicry too. However, poets do have a microphone which they may get away with using as a prop in itself and may also make gestures, signals and expressions of body language that in effect turns them directly into props.

Costumes are more problematic than everything else. Slam organisers are reluctant, especially in the US to have a poet performing in a wet suit or a Batman outfit, which would be deemed detrimental to the poetry itself. However, a number of poets I have performed in shows with are transvestites and transsexuals, for whom a costume clearly has more importance, and will often reflect poetry specifically in tune with their persona. Generally I have no problems with costumed poets. Judges should be able to tell if a poet's costume is really necessary. Would Shakespeare's Shall I Compare Thee sound better recited by someone stood in a suit of armour or a space suit or someone in ordinary clothes allowing the words to speak for themselves? The organisers will generally not need to make the decision about this. The judges can do that for themselves.

Similarly, what clothes would be acceptable? Would a poet in tee shirt and jeans fare badly beside someone in expensive designer evening wear from Saville Row? Neither is in costume. Both are in ordinary clothes. Maybe the answer lies in the quality of the poetry and not the clothing or costumes at all. One poet I see regularly has a costume devise consisting of a woolly hat.

Some US poetry team slams have the teams dressed in identical official team colour tee shirts, which goes beyond costuming into uniform and designer kit wear, stripping the poet of an individual identity. Personally I'll wear what I feel comfortable in, unless rules stipulate otherwise, If I felt my poem would be best expressed through a wet suit so be it, though so far I think it matters not to me. I have however seen many poets create very three dimensional characters in a variety of costumes and with some props. It is sad that some fine poet-personas like Manchester's Chloe Poems would actually be disqualified from some of the more dogmatically held anti-costume and anti-prop Slam events, which they might otherwise easily win for sheer quality of poetry.

13/. IS A SLAM A FAIR TALENT CONTEST?

Often not, no. ... A popular US Slam saying runs, "The best poet always loses."

Some page poets would suffer badly in a Slam. Also, comparing one good poet to another is like asking if Star Wars is a better film than Citizen Kane. How would Shakespeare do against Keats in a Slam? Are they too different in style for an accurate realistic critical comparison? It is common to se good poets get badly marked at Slams. I have seen a poet awarded straight maximum point scores of ten by three judges and a four by the remaining judge, flatlining his chances of a total score of forty. The scoring can be arbitrary and subjective in the extreme. The poet must be there for al the audience and not just the judges.

14/. If I am asked to judge a slam what should I do?

I haven't judged as I invariably go to perform, but I do watch my competitors and think to myself what I would award them and why. As an exercise that often helps me to think what my own performance needs by way of improvement too.

Of course if your competing or you know someone who is, as a lover, a close friend or family member, you should abstain from being a judge when the compere asks for volunteers.

If you qualify then you will be asked to say how many points a poet should get out of (usually) ten. Watch and listen closely to the poet perform, and decide whether you liked what you saw or not. State your number of points. Three or four other judges will do likewise. The compere or referee will add up the scores and the total will be that poet's final score in the slam or the round of the slam being played.

You could be a harsh judge or a moderate and fair one. Some judges can be cruel, giving many poet slow scores, even as low as two or three points each, but most are more considerate. Personally I would discard the really low scores, and never give anything less than six points. From experience, I can say that it takes bravery or reckless abandon to get up and present a poem at a Slam at all. It is scary. My point system would be 6 = Poor 7 = Fair. 8 = Good 9 = Very Good 10 = Perfect, brilliant, etc. Someone would have to be exceptionally bad in my eyes to get 5 or less.

Things to look out for include, - confidence, good humour, willingness to look the audience in the eye and not just stare at the judges, giving the poem a quick intro, often just title and poem rather than wasting valuable time explaining what the poem will be about when it comes, making good use of the time slot, i.e., not over-running, being articulate, having a good poem, ending on a strong powerful note, i.e., if the poem is humorous, having a good punchline. If the poet swears, uses props, costumes, etc are they relevant or pertinent to the poetry presented? Also, listen to the audience around you as he finishes. If they applaud loudly allow that they love him or her even if you had reservations and mark accordingly. Don't wait to see how the other judges vote. It's your choice. The poet will forgive you for harsh marking. Be honest.

The hardest part is gauging the scores across the whole competition. With ten poets or more competing for the competition with you as judge, the first poet on is setting the pace. If everyone gives him high scores the competitors have a hard task to beat him, so many judges may play safe and give him a 7 or 8 as after all, he was good but you don't know who might be better. Later poets are easier to judge, as they are in the judges' eyes at least, better or worse performers than their predecessor.

14/. If I am asked to judge a slam what should I do?

I haven't judged as I invariably go to perform, but I do watch my competitors and think to myself what I would award them and why. As an exercise that often helps me to think what my own performance needs by way of improvement too.

Of course if your competing or you know someone who is, as a lover, a close friend or family member, you should abstain from being a judge when the compere asks for volunteers.

If you qualify then you will be asked to say how many points a poet should get out of (usually) ten. Watch and listen closely to the poet perform, and decide whether you liked what you saw or not. State your number of points. Three or four other judges will do likewise. The compere or referee will add up the scores and the total will be that poet's final score in the slam or the round of the slam being played.

You could be a harsh judge or a moderate and fair one. Some judges can be cruel, giving many poet slow scores, even as low as two or three points each, but most are more considerate. Personally I would discard the really low scores, and never give anything less than six points. From experience, I can say that it takes bravery or reckless abandon to get up and present a poem at a Slam at all. It is scary. My point system would be 6 = Poor 7 = Fair. 8 = Good 9 = Very Good 10 = Perfect, brilliant, etc.. Someone would have to be exceptionally bad in my eyes to get 5 or less.

Things to look out for include, - confidence, good humor, willingness to look the audience in the eye and not just stare at the judges, giving the poem a quick intro.., often just title and poem rather than wasting valuable time explaining what the poem will be about when it comes, making good use of the time slot, i.e., not overrunning, being articulate, having a good poem, ending on a strong powerful note, i.e., if the poem is humorous, having a good punch line. If the poet swears, uses props, costumes, etc. are they relevant or pertinent to the poetry presented? Also, listen to the audience around you as he finishes. If they applaud loudly allow that they love him or her even if you had reservations and mark accordingly. Don't wait to see how the other judges vote. It's your choice. The poet will forgive you for harsh marking. Be honest.

The hardest part is gauging the scores across the whole competition. With ten poets or more competing for the competition with you as judge, the first poet on is setting the pace. If everyone gives him high scores the competitors have a hard task to beat him, so many judges may play safe and give him a 7 or 8 as after all, he was good but you don't know who might be better. Later poets are easier to judge, as they are in the judges' eyes at least, better or worse performers than their predecessor.

15/. Are there any kind of warm up exercises a poet can do before a Slam?

You are limited in this option. You donít need to do press ups and sit ups and the kinds of exercise needed to do an athletic event. The important thing is to be as relaxed as possible. You may not even know at what point in the billing you are due on. Your name may be called unexpectedly. (I have on at least one occasion been left out completely when the compere forgot I was there, which left me very disappointed).

Take drinks, though if they have alcohol in them, not too much. Read your notes or cite the words of your poem in your head if need be, but otherwise, enjoy the rest of the show.

16/. How do you cope with stage fright?

Stage fright comes and goes. Sometimes you donít get it at all, other times your knees feel like they will buckle and you are about to have a heart attack. You fidget nervously, and drop your notes minutes before going on. You feel like chickening out altogether. You sweat, and fret and have anxiety attacks. Usually it melts away as you go on stage if not before. It is particularly good to see an appreciative audience at a show, where even if a previous poetic act stumbles and makes mistakes the audience does not get angry or hostile.

Donít apologize to the audience for your nervousness, just do your stuff and go. Confidence will find itself.

17/. What advance preparation do you need to make?

Write your poems, read your poems, know your poems, turn up on time. Thatís basically it. You should be punctual, even if the host is no. Many slams run on too long as the hosts are late getting started, but you should be on time even if they are not.

Be familiar with your own work. Even if reading off the page, practice tone and voice at home for days or weeks before going on. If you have more than one page of verse to read, then make sure you can turn the pages easily. I usually crease or cut corners in the pages before going on to be able to zap a page away quickly, especially if they are of one poem that continues overleaf. I have seen several poets start to receive applause in mid-poem because some pause for a complicated page turn over makes people think they have finished.

18/. Should you take alcohol to steady your nerves before performing?

In moderation if you need to, but donít get blotto. I have seen poets to drunk to perform. I have heard poets tell of drunken brawls and one case of a poet spewing up on the front row of his audience mid act. Suffice to say such behavior ruins your likelihood of coming away with a prize.

19/. Should you improvise or use freestyle and make it up as you along?

If you think you can make a poem up on the spot try it, but I wouldnít recommend it. It is common in some rap-base clubs for rappers to try to make lines up as they perform, in keeping with the music, but that always sounds contrived and corny, especially if the rapper depends on rhyme. In such cases the music also thrashes against the rap and drowns out the lyrics, which can end up garbled and unintelligible. A few rappers have tried to do the same kind of spontaneous lyricism in poetry slams where without the cover of the music, the limited mileage of the words becomes more apparent.... It can be done, but more often than not it fails. I personally avoid it like the plague, but if you feel confident, give it a try.

20/. How should you introduce yourself to the audience?

The MC/Compere will usually give you an introduction. If you are there for the first time at the club/theatre/venue, they will probably ask you where you are from and a few other questions to give themselves some idea how to plug you. A first time appearance may well be introduced as such. If you are wearing a zany hat or tee-shirt that can become a focus of the intro.. (My Got Blood?" vampire tee-shirt has actually become something of a symbol of my performances now, even being depicted in works of art on my CD cover). Once up, just say hi to the audience and get straight into your act. You don't have time in a three minute contest for too much banter.

21/. What should you say about each poem you are about to start performing?

Ideally tell them the title and then do the poem. I have seen poets take two and a half minutes to explain a haiku length poem. The intro. can bore people and patronize the audience. I have heard monologues on the lines of

"Well, this was inspired during a trip my brother and I, ...no, no, My Father, not my brother, and I made to Ravenglass, a quiet little corner ofthe Lake District, in Cumbria. We were climbing a hill, and came to an unusual kissing-gate style, and I saw my first ever Kingfisher..... it was.. such a lovely bird......" yada yada yada.....

Of course by the time he gets to the poem the audience is asleep, and miss a fine little poem for it. Anything you say byway of an intro. is seen by audience, compere, judges and visiting poets/publishing people as part of your act just as much as the poem itself. Make it count, or drop it altogether.

22/. What about appearance and style?

Iíll answer this for a/. the poems you read. b/. The way you look.

a/. The poems. - The poem will dictate that for itself. If itís humorous, the tone and inflection and voice mannerism will tell the audience how to respond to the poem. You may want to shout some lines or recite some in accents or dialects. Other lines may be softly spoken. It depends on the poem.

b/. The Way You Look - So, do you go smartly dressed in your best suit, or jeans and tee shirt? Ideally the casual-relaxed look works best for me. In fact I often go straight from my daytime warehouse job to an event. Many poets dress more or less for where they plan to go for drinks and dancing after the show is over. Rock fans in leathers, those out for romantic meals in smart attire, etc.. In most cases it doesnít matter.

On rare occasions you may find a venue has a strict dress code, i.e., no jeans, trainers or football shirts. It has been known for performers to be turned away from the venue entrance by bouncers for breaching such rules, so make sure you know of any. Football shirts are unwise for poets anyway, as an audience full of fans of another team have an automatic heckling point to play off and it can lead to disruption.

23/. Should you explain obscure vocabulary, dialect references and any little known place names that might turn up in your poetry for your audience?

If your poem has such references, chances are its a poem you shouldnít be performing anyway. Anyone can look up obscure references with a decent dictionary or atlas of place names. Trying to sound Ďcleverí and learned often makes a poet sound patronizing and egotistical. Often the context of a poem will tell people if the place you are describing, Netherwhallop is a town, village, city or country,,,,, you donít need to give its latitude-longitude references or show photographs to prove its real. You may also find several in your audience know it well, and that you didnít personally discover the place.

Obscure dictionary words are easy to throw in, i.e., I came across the word Corposant, which means ĎGlowing with Saint Elmoís fireí. Itís a great reference but one I wouldnít put in a poem precisely because itís one that I would have to explain or which people would need to look up in a book. As a rule if you donít think your audience will get a point you are making in the poem, donít do the poem itself.

Similarly, dialect can sound odd to many audiences. There are poetry groups that cater for dialect poets in particular regions, but trying to impose dialect on a general audience can simply strike them as speaking foreign without offering subtitles. A Manchester based dialect Society decided to perform in a non-slam event for my local pub one night, and as regulars there knew I was a poet, I was invited to join in, though my poems have little by way of dialect about them. As the outsider to the visiting poets, I was invited to perform first. My friends at the pub listened to me, precisely because I was known to them, and it was a chance to satisfy curiosity about the Ďpoetryí they knew I indulged in. They liked what I did , and showed their appreciation. The dialect poets however, as strangers, throwing in obscure deep dialect, and some truly atrocious interval clog-dancing acts, lost the audiences attention completely and their show was stopped half way through. It was a classic case of the poets disregarding their audience to do their own thing. Your focus should always be on the audience, not on yourself. Donít patronize the audience, donít show of that you know something they donít.

24/. How should you get to the stage and/or microphone when introduced?

Quickly and effortlessly. In some venues you may know in advance when you are due on, and be asked to take a seat near the stage/microphone, or even in rare cases, backstage in the wings waiting for a prearranged compereís cue. The important thing is to be in the right place at the right time. I have seen acts called while they are on the lavatory or have popped to the bar. If you can, sit near the front of the audience rather than the middle or the back. Most poetry venues have round tables for the audience to sit at with drinks rather than a tiered seating auditorium, so getting past the audience to the stage is easy in most cases. If there are steps up to a raised stage be sure to know the route before you go on. If you have a disability that may make reaching the stage area awkward, be sure to let the compere and the venue owners know so you can receive full assistance. If a venue is unable to accommodate you in the event of you being blind or in a wheelchair or deaf, etc., the venue is not worth attending, and many other poets would assist in any protests or boycotts a disabled poet made in such a case. Generally get to the stage quickly and casually, donít run, donít fall over microphone leads, or untied shoe laces, or knock drinks on tables as you go.

. If the microphone is fixed, the compere may need to adjust it to height for you, or it may be a microphone they have to hand to you. . Be sure to hand it back as you go, and thank the compere as you do so.

25/. Should you be willing to meet/greet the audience before and/or after performances?

Where possible, make a point of it yes. I want to make sure I am with the people who come to see the show rather than aloof, distant and unapproachable. If I was a major rock star or a headline celebrity that would be very dangerous, but a minor poet can receive a lot of kind and sincere respect from the audience. It is good to sit at a table and chat with the people who have a liking for poetry. Many who go to Slams are poets themselves, and may even perform on this or other occasions. Others may be poets or poetry fans who would like to try to do a Slam but don't feel quite brave enough, or reckless enough to do so yet, so they want to know from the poets they meet how it looks, and feels. Sometimes it can surprise someone at a table you are at to find that you are suddenly called out and that you are suddenly up at the microphone. Several times I have had the following conversation with an audience member -

Spectator (as a break is announced and another poet comes off to rapturous applause) "He was good wasn't he?

Me - Very good yes. He'll be tough to beat.

Spectator. - I couldn't do that. I'd like to but I'd be too scared. Would you do it?

Me - Actually I would , yes. I'm on next, after the break.....

Spectator goes into state of awe and asks lots of questions, and later after seeing me perform will often be full of praise, irrespective of how I have performed, but just for seeing me 'do it'.

The audiences at regular events tend to come back month after month (such shows are rarely weekly) and can get to know a poet well, often surprising me by remembering a piece I did several Slams before and commenting on the piece.

You can get to share drinks and receive party invites from audience members, and most are very nice. I have yet to meet a stalker but then I am not regarded as sexy by any definition. Generally however, I love the audiences and like to talk with them as freely as possible. I am not like some entertainers who make a big deal out shaking hands publicly with everyone though. That is just patronizing and poetry audiences are usually bright alert intelligent people who would easily see through such insincere gimmickry.

26/. Someone wants to photograph, film or audio record your poetry performance - should you allow it?

The answer here is usually no. Most theaters and clubs have strict rules about whether professional performances should be videoed or recorded in some other medium. In most, recording equipment will simply be banned. Apart from the distraction caused by flash photography, the performer being captured in such a medium should ask what the camera or recording gear operator wants to do with the material. It may just be a fan getting a family souvenir of the occasion, or it could be someone intent on making commercial gain from your performance. If the latter, then you should be entitled to a share of any business proceeds to be made, and that means the person with the camera should certainly discuss any such plans with you before hand. The film or audio recording is a record of a performance by you of work that you have the copyrights to (unless you have sold them off in some kind of negotiation) so you need to know what is to become of that footage.

It should really be up to event organizers, venue security officials and the MC to protect the performers from any unauthorized non-permitted recording or camera work that might go on, though it rarely occurs.

If someone approaches you, and as long as the venue-event organizers are also aware of this, to ask permission to film you, and you agree that their reasons are good ones and you are promised some kind of financial reward for your cooperation (in writing, don't accept anyone's word for anything) then consider going ahead with being filmed. Make y sure you have read all the small print though. Such filming deals would usually start in advance of the event itself, so if someone is trying to rush you, it is probably a con and you should consider declining the offer.

27/. Should I hand around copies of my poems to the audience, compere and fellow poets?

I donít. Some do. I generally find it pretentious. If you are performing they will get more than enough of you that way without being expected to read your work on the spot when thrust into their hands at the tables. I have seen poets who make a point of being seen writing even at the tables during one anotherís acts, trying to look passionate and committed to their craft. Some are, others fake it. I have had poets undecided which pieces they are about to perform, hand me a stack of poems and invite me to pick the best from them for the show. I usually select without seriously reading any. I have too much of my own stuff to think about. I have seen one poet actually sneaking copies of his poetry pamphlet into audience coat pockets and handbags ...(I thought at first he was stealing from them).

Many poets, myself included, if they have a book or CD out, may well make use of the performance slot to plug it and invite audience members to purchase or receive curtesy copies from them after the show or during intervals. It's important to OK this, and any flyers, leaflets etc. you wish to produce, with the compere first. Leaflets and flyers are often the best way to learn of other slams and poetry events going on. It is how many poets end to turn up at every venue going. Itís worth noting that the bard who beat you in this slam is probably going to be competing with you again, next time, even in some other venue.

28/. Anything else I should know?

Lots, but youíll pick it up more by experience than from reading this. If in doubt go to a slam as audience and picture yourself having a go. If by chance it is an apparently poorly run show, donít be put off, try another one. Good luck.

Poets, - many venues allow the audience to have candles on the tables to add atmosphere and ambiance to a venue. Poets have a habit of bringing leaflets, flyers and even copies of their poems to venues to distribute, and sometimes the papers can get too close to candles and start little table fires,,,, so do be careful.

INFREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTION (IAQ)

One I thought up to answer myself on - LOL

1/. How would famous poets like Shakespeare do if they entered a modern day poetry slam?

I can only speculate here, but I expect it would look as follows. (I have only included a few poets here, so the list is ludicrously short. Poets names are given in alphabetical order).

JOHN BETJEMIN

A wry humorous poet with a terrific and very distinctive voice, who's Shropshire Lad poem about Captain Webb's ghost swimming in the canals would go down a storm. He would delight audiences easily. A Clear favourite.

WILLIAM BLAKE

The sheer startling imagery of his Songs Of Innocence And Experience would go down extremely well. Imagine The Tyger being performed by Blake personally if you had never read it from the written page first. What would be lost however would be Blake's use of his amazing artwork,, as his books were often illustrated with his own paintings, which he saw as very essential companion pieces to the printed words. Slam rules would not allow props like paintings, photographs and film slides to accompany a poem, which might put Blake off. Blake was also fond of being publicly seen in the nude, so that might act as a negative expression of costuming and also be forbidden by the Slam organisers and judges who would automatically disqualify him if he performed thus in the US, though in Britain he might be welcomed for it.

T. S. ELIOT

Bleakness and despair like The Waste Land would probably put audiences off him, (and it's too long to boot), but he would do well with his Cats poems, as long as he does them without musical add ons by the likes of Andrew Lloyd Webber.

WILLIAM TOPAZ McGonagall

Badly maligned as the world's worst ever poet in many opinion polls, McGonagall is the Ed Wood of the poetry world, and his Tay Bridge Disaster poem the Plan Nine From Outer Space of poetry (Or it was until I came along)

McGonagall might seem a figure of fun to many but audiences loved him for his extreme eccentricity. (He really did perform publicly in Scotland). He was a strict teetotaller and audience members used to spike his water with gin to get him ranting drunkenly. He may actually, in my own beliefs have been wise to his reception and played on it, but good poet or extremely bad one, McGonagall would be hugely entertaining and would win many Slams for that, hands down.

 

 

WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE

As well as being a poet and dramatist of some renown, the Bard was also an accomplished actor. We know he played the Ghost in some of the Globe productions of Hamlet and other characters too, so Shakespeare was no stranger to public performance and voice projection. Some extracts of blank and iambic verse from his plays might stand alone as performable poetry for a solo artist, though it is more likely he would present a sonnet or two before the slam audience, and on the whole they mote be please'd. He would be a tough one to beat.

DYLAN THOMAS

Fine poet but not he finest reader of his own work, - the Richard Burton reading of Under Milkwood was regarded as more definitive than the author's own so he might do his work some injustice in a Slam.

OSCAR WILDE

His outstanding dramatic works, letters and prose fictions vastly outshone his poetry, which was heavy on classical allusion and imagery, workmanlike and mostly unexceptional, bar for the amazing Ballad Of Reading Gaol which would be too long to do in full in a three minute Slam, but Wilde was a noted public speaker and after dinner raconteur, so invited to attend a Slam he would probably write material specially for it and win easily.

Modern living poets - Tony Harrison, Carol Anne Duffy, and poet Laureate, Andrew Motion do public readings of their poems at bookshops like Waterstones and at literature festivals, but few of the professionals would dare take part in Slams (though they may attend as guest poets and prize - presenters) and on the whole I can't blame them. Imagine Motion's embarrassment if he was to come third to a complete amateur unknown poet as could easily happen in the subjective Slam judging arena. The literary Press would really have a field day at his expense.

 

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