Tips for Poetry Slams

Performance poetry is harder than it looks!  While I was Slammaster of the Berzerkeley Poetry Slam (1999 - 2009), I distributed this pamphlet to help newbies get up to speed.

1. Quick Start

1A Introduction
This guide is meant to help new poets perform well in a poetry slam. Slam is a game, with rules, and there are ways of winning and losing that have nothing to do with great writing or great performance.  This guide is meant to "level the playing field" for newcomers, so that veteran competitors do not have an unfair advantage.  This guide assumes you have a decent poem, and now you want to perform it well and earn high scores.
1B Know yourself
What is your goal for tonight's slam?  What "voice" can you use to best deliver your poem?  Do you have a "real" you, a "public" you, or other personas?  Are they different?  Which "you" would be best at delivering your poem?  Dress in a way that lends credibility to your poem, will be respected (or admired) by your audience, and accentuates your strengths.  What can you do tonight that will give you a sense of accomplishment and joy that has NOTHING to do with your scores?
1C Know your poem
If you plan to read off page, read it out loud a couple times first. Call up your friends and read it to them over the phone.  If you consistently stumble over a line, there is likely some problem with the writing.  If you can, memorize your poem, as it frees your hands and eyes to express.
1D Know your audience & judges
What kinds of people frequent this venue?  Who's in the house tonight?  Do you want to connect with the whole audience, a specific group of people within the audience, or maybe a specific person?   What can you do to inspire the entire room?  What kinds of poems have been successful here in the past?  Who was chosen to be a judge?  What are their likely prejudices?
1E Know the rules
Every slam has its own unique rules, and often the only way to learn them is to introduce yourself to the organizers!
1F Know your competition
Be especially aware of their experience, their gender and ethnicity.  Who is performing before you?  If they are likely to do well, what can you do to 'piggyback' or hijack their momentum?  If they are likely to do poorly, what can you do to "flip" the energy and create your own momentum?  Who is performing after you?  What kinds of poems are they likely to perform?  What can you do to overshadow them?  What can you do that they couldn't possibly one-up, or couldn't possibly condemn?  Beyond competition: introduce yourself to your peers, make friends, ask questions, be open to suggestions.  It is your competition which will teach you to be a better writer and performer, so express your gratitude!
1G Be present
Be unforgettable.  Be distinctive.  Be compelling.  AND BE LOUD!  The #1 mistake made by new poets is being too quiet.  Stand CLOSE to the mic and BE HEARD!!!
 
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