Subject Guide: Poetry Slam

What is a Poetry Slam?

The Rules for Poets

The Rules for Judges and Judging

Poetry Slam And Spoken Word Resources

Books and Anthologies

Videos in Hostos Collection

Compiled by:
Professor Miriam Laskin

What is a Poetry Slam?

“Simply put, poetry slam is the competitive art of performance poetry. It puts a dual emphasis on writing and performance, encouraging poets to focus on what they're saying and how they're saying it.” (

“A poetry slam is like a lyrical boxing match that pits poets against other poets in a bout.”


Austin National Slams coordinator Mike Henry says, "What poetry is about is people,'' he says. ``The slams have put the voice back into the audience and in the hands of the people. You don't need a Ph.D to know if a poem is good to you, or if it works for you, or if it makes you cry, laugh or think. It doesn't take anything, just being there.''  [Shilanda L. Woolridge, “To SLAM to DUNK perchance to RHYME,” at]



The Rules for Poets


ü      Each poet must perform work that he or she has created.


ü       What kind of poetry is read at slams? One slammer’s answer: “Heartfelt love poetry, searing social     commentary, uproarious comic routines, and bittersweet personal confessional pieces. Poets are free to do work in any style on any subject.”


ü       A poem must be 3 minutes or less. (A timekeeper will time each poem as it is read or performed.)


ü      No props or costumes (that is, things you hold, wear, or use to dramatize the poem).


ü       Sampling: It is acceptable for a poet to incorporate, imitate, or otherwise "signify on" the words, lyrics, or tune of someone else (commonly called "sampling") in his own work. If he is only riffing off another's words, he should expect only healthy controversy; if on the other hand, he is ripping off their words, he should expect scornful dissing.


The Rules for Judges and Judging


A total of 5 Judges are chosen from the audience.


Once chosen, the judges will: 1) be given a set of printed instructions on how to judge a poetry slam  2) have a private, verbal crash course by the emcee or house manager on the do's and don'ts of poetry slam judging (where they can ask questions), and 3) hear the standardized Official Emcee Spiel, which, among other things, will apprise the audience of their own responsibilities as well as remind the judges of theirs. Having heard, read, or otherwise experienced these three sets of instructions; a judge cannot be challenged over a score.


ü       The judges will give each poem a score from 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest or "perfect" score. They   will be encouraged to use one decimal place in order to preclude the likelihood of a tie. (ex: a score of 8.7 or 9.2)


ü       Each poem will get five scores. The high and the low scores are dropped and the remaining three scores   will be added together.


ü       Scores will be displayed or otherwise publicly available during the bout.

ü     High scores advance to 2nd and 3rd round, everybody has a lot of fun, and at the end three poets win cash prizes. The Points are NOT the Point, the Point is Poetry!


(These rules are adapted from the Austin, Texas Slam site,



Poetry Slam And Spoken Word Resources


Did you know that the Ancient Greeks had poetry slams?!?

(They weren’t called “slams” but they were poetry contests and they were wildly popular!)



Read about the history of poetry slams, guidelines and traditions:


Ø     The Austin Poetry Slam

Ø      e-poets: An Incomplete History of Slam

Ø      SlamNation

Ø      PSI - Poetry Slam Incorporated




Find a club or café in New York City or around the country that hosts Spoken Word and Poetry Slam events.


Ø      NuyoricanPoetry&Slam

Ø      Urbana

Ø     LouderARTS




Meet some of the poets, join discussion forums with other poets, check out poetry reviews, videos & CDs, etc.


Ø      Fresh Poetry

Ø     the e-poets network

Ø      Beau Sia: Asian American Spoken Word Artist

Ø      Staceyann Chin

Ø     Taylor Mali




 Books & Anthologies


These are some books written or edited by Spoken Word/Poetry Slam authors

(The titles and reviews are reproduced here from the Fresh Poetry Web site:


Algarin, Miguel, Ed.,  et. al. Aloud: Voices from the Nuyorican Poets' Café.

New York: Henry Holt, 1994. (Hostos Library owns this book)


Compiled by poets who have been at the heart of this vibrant and original movement since its earliest days, Aloud! is an inclusive cross section of the most innovative and accomplished word artists from all parts of America. (review from


Cabico, Regie, Ed. , et. al. Poetry Nation: The North American Anthology of Fusion Poetry.  Montreal: Vehicule Press, 1998


This is sort of like my music collection: a little bit hip-hop, a little bit folk, a little bit punk, and a whole lot of rock and roll. Its fresh. It's eclectic. It's contemporary with an occasional nostalgic twist. Let your eyes wander over the pages of this book and you'll find yourself singing the words, putting a little beat-box in there with the ryhmes, or screaming at intervals ala P.J. Harvey. Maybe you'll just immerse yourself silently in the words--after all, some of the poems in this book stand alone on the delicate placement of words and tight form.... The book begins with Allen Ginsberg's last poem, and explodes into a medly of contemporary narrative and lyric poetry under the loose genre of Fusion--the curious blend of oral and written poetry.... The poets in Poetry Nation have found more creative ways of saying, "I love you! I miss you! Please come back!" See: Noel Franklin's "Long Distance Ex"--"If you were a local call/I'd be making you all day". Basically, this collection has something good for all tastes (good tastes, that is). And like the friends who borrow my favorite CDs without giving them back, I am sick of people at poetry readings taking Poetry Nation from my hands while I am reading it! Everyone needs a personal copy--it's sure to go down as a classic--a top 40 hit, or something like that. And with my promo, maybe it'll go triple platinum. -Stephanie Costello

Anglesey, Zoe, Ed. Listen Up!: Spoken Word Poetry.
New York: One World, 1999

This poetic reader features 9 of NYC's hottest spoken word performers: Tish Benson, Jessica Care Moore, Mariahadessa EkereTallie, Suheir Hammad, Saul Williams, Ava Chin, Willie Perdomo, Carl Hancock Rux, and Tracie Morris. Yes! The women outnumber the men in this compilation, 6 to 3! Since Listen Up! only focuses on nine writers, we get to read at least 4 pieces by each author, giving us a chance to glimpse deeper into their styles of writing. The author's biographies that accompany the poems are longer than most anthologies allow, and include quotes and comments by the authors. Most reveal what inspires them to writ. Being a writer myself, I love to hear what drives others to put pen to page. The influence of Rap and Hip Hop is aplenty in these pages, as well as Jazz and the Blues. Pick this book up! You will be inspired by the honesty in these words!! -Kry


Kaufman, Alan, Ed. The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry.

New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1999

This is the poetry volume you need. This is what other anthologies like Aloud and Poetry Nation wish they were. While the above two represent a fair amount of the Slam community, The Outlaw Bible of American Poetry lives up to its name- it features poems from just about every literary "outlaw" in the twentieth century. The impetus behind the idea- to publish and highlight poetry that has been overlooked (either purposely or otherwise) by the academy - is the same idea that spawned such organizations as the Slam, but while Slam has actually managed to grab media attention (deservedly so), not all "outlaw" poets are necessarily performers.

This volume is a whopping 650 pages long, which gives editor Alan Kaufman plenty of room to include a diverse and fascinating pantheon of outlaw poets. One could almost make the case that the volume traces the rise and growth of what historian Howard Zinn (
A People's History of the U.S) called "a permanent adversarial culture." The obligatory Beats and Slammers are here, but its the other inclusions, like the sections on New York's Unbearables, and selections by unlikely poets like James Dean and Mumia Abu-Jamal. There are nice surprises: a spooky self-elegy penned by Tupac Shakur, a beautiful piece by Che Guevera, and strong offering from Father Daniel Berrigan. Musicians like Tom Waits, Woody Guthrie, Dylan and Cohen are represented, as are "performers" like Abbie Hoffman and Lenny Bruce.

....The title is all the more fitting then; it's as if we have been handed the scripture of resistance. It's the Bible Walt Whitman (featured in the anthology of course) would have wanted to tote around with him on Civil War battlefields; it's the evidence that 20th century America might actually have something valuable to leave behind. Amen. John Paul Davis



Warr, Michael, Ed., et. al. Powerlines: A Decade of Poetry from Chicago's Guild Complex. Chicago: Tia Chucha Press, 1999


If poetry Slam is Chicago's export to the world at large, then the Guild Complex is perhaps Chicago's best-kept poetry secret. While the past ten years have seen the Slam explode to an international scene, that same decade has seen the steady growth of the Guild Complex's influence in the city as a meeting place and haven for both performance and page poets. Holding open mics, bringing in visiting writers, hosting the Gwendolyn Brooks poetry award, and running Tia Chucha Press are actually only a few of the many community-minded activities of the Complex. So it no surprise that the Complex's first anthology, Power Lines, includes most of Chicago's best and brightest poets, from Gwendolyn Brooks and Li-Young Lee to Marc Smith and Reggie Gibson. It also includes many of the city's younger, even unpublished poets, making the anthology refreshingly cross-generational.... I find it delightful that one can read, for example, work by Tyehimba Jess, a past member of the MadBar slam team and turn the page to read work by Richard Jones, DePaul University's poet in residence. That both are exceptional poems is a pleasure that is made more full by being able to read them as next-door neighbors.... Power Lines is a solid representation of the depth and breadth of what's going on in Chicago poetry these days. Locals will be delighted to see the work of friends and familiar poets; for readers outside Chicago, Power Lines is an excellent primer of Chicago's finest poets. John Paul Davis



Bonair-Agard, Roger, et. al. Burning Down the House : Selected Poems from the Nuyorican Poets Cafe's National Poetry Slam Champions

New York: Soft Skull Press (98 Suffolk St., #3A, NY 10002), 2000

I suppose there are two ways to think about performance poems when it comes mass production: either they ought to work well on the page, or they oughtn't. If you're in the latter camp, then there is little purpose in presenting performance poems as texts; they exist to be heard. If you're in the former, then arguably, the goal of producing a performance poem as a text is that it functions as powerfully in that format as it does on stage.  With Burning Down the House, a sort of mini-anthology of New York poets who've made big splashes at Slam Nationals, one gets a little bit of both, I think. Each poet has work represented that functions well on the page, and that stands up to multiple readings, and each has work in this collection that, minus the performance, and under the scrutiny of several readings, begins to seem too simplistic a treatment. The poets, Roger Bonair-Agard, Stephen Coleman, Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, Alix Olson and Lynne Procope, are all consummate performers and writers. Anyone who has seen them perform at Nationals would no doubt agree, and agree that each, in his/her own way, makes good use of slam "style" (if one can claim there is such a thing.) Of them, though, only Bonair-Agard's pieces in this collection are consistent; with the other four, I find that poems were included which either seem to have lost something in the transfer from stage to page or are not fully developed.... Overall, the collection is tight, with moments here and there that are more suited to performance. The pop culture references, excessive repetition and overemphasis on sonics, to the point of sacrificing meaning, that work so well in the situated environs of a slam can be a detriment on page, and will, I fear, render some of the works in this volume either silly-sounding or incomprehensible to readers not versed in our turn-of-the-century culture. But this is, in my mind, a minor complaint against an otherwise solid collection from five fine writers. John Paul Davis



Glazner, Gary. Poetry Slam: The Competitive Art of Performance Poetry.
San Francisco: Manic D Press, 2001


Last summer marked the ten-year anniversary of the Poetry Slam Nationals, so it ís more than fitting that Gary Glazner, the man who got the first four slam teams together in San Francisco for the first-ever Nationals, has edited an anthology of not only slam poetry, but also short essays on various aspects of slam competitions. And actually, in this reviewer’s humble opinion, it’s about damn time somebody without more partisan aims edited one of these things. .... The anthology is organized topically , which allows Glazner to set the poems in conversation with each other, much in the same way one might hear them at a slam, and it allows readers to see the range of means by which a slam poet can address a given topic. Tyehimba Jess's spit-and-sire serious poem “Teacher,” about the relations between a teacher and one of his marginalized students, sits next to Dan Ferri’s comedic send-up of educational "tracking" systems,"Backwards Day" which does the same thing with laughter that Jess's piece does using charged emotion. Justin Chin's acidly hilarious "Chinese Restaurant" addresses racism directed towards Asian Americans and is set between Cin Salach's playful "French Kissing Martha Stewart" and Wendi Loomis's heartstring-pulling "Artichoke."

The essays about slam are peppered throughout the book, and are penned by veteran slammers. Some, like Jeff McDanielís essay on "Slam and the Academy" is a brilliant, insightful piece, and McDaniel, whose verse has been featured the very academic "The Best American Poetry of 1996" as well as being an acclaimed slammer, is the perfect person to discuss the issue. And, the essay follows the section of "school" poems. Likewise, Glazner selected Taylor Mali, known (often infamously) for his cutthroat competitive nature, to write a piece on Slam strategy, making one wonder if perhaps Glazner doesn't have a bit of a sense of humor about the whole thing, which I find refreshing, given how deadly serious too many writers take the slam in the first place.... Glazner has pulled together the best in slam writing, culture and history in this exceptional collection, and ha s succeeded in creating what will likely become the definitive collection of slam poetry in the future.
John Paul Davis



Von Ziegesar, Cecily, Ed. Slam.

Alloy Books, available at

Let me start off by saying that this book is SO worth its $6 price! Slam, is the best poetry submitted to, a site geared towards teens. Alloy also has an online slam where people can vote on poems submitted, maybe these are the same poems that made the book. The only downfall with this anthology, is that one can discriminate the teen writers from the adult slam artists in the book, without even looking at the names, and pretty much by reading just the first 2 to 3 lines. The teen writing in's Slam, does not seem to follow any of the slam formulas at all, which may not be a bad thing, but many pieces are short, and seem rushed, and fall into that "been there done that" catagory even if you are a teen. Standouts with individual voices are "Mexican Restaurant" by Desiree Scott, and "Pull Over at the 7-11" by Kelly Alesso. I do wonder why teenagers who have competed at the national slam level against adults, like 14 yr old Dan Houston from Connecticut-- whom was the youngest slammer to compete at the Nationals in 1999 when he was just 13-- were not included in this book? Me thinks that perhaps this book was published to sell mostly to Alloy's large online teenage community, and to induce other teenagers to join it, thus the cheap price and the explanation of a foreword by Tori Amos and not Diane DiPrima, Maggie Estep, Emily xyz, or even Henry Rollins. Also, interesting to note, is that as far as I can tell, there is not one teenaged male in this book. . .Hmm. . .

So here are the awesome things about this book: Worth the $6 alone are the writings and insights by Jerry Quickly, Regie Cabico, Douglas Martin, from LA, Jeffrey McDaniel, Beth Liseck, Saul Williams, Cheryl B, Felice Belle, Dana Bryant, and a rather serious piece from Beau Sia about Allen Ginsberg. But Wait, that's not all! Included in this little gem are great little one line writing exercises, and a quote on every page, these quotes mostly seem to voice the same opine as the poem they are printed next to, but a few of them left me saying, "Huh?" Obviously chosen because of the popularity of the pop star, much like the book's intro by Tori Amos. But wait! Theres more! For $6 you also get advice about writing and starting your own slam! But my favorite thing about this book is all the old classic poems juxtaposed with the new stuff. Frank OHara, Emily Dickenson, Pablo Neruda, William Carlos Williams, Gwendoyln Brooks,Allen Ginsberg, Lucile Clifton, John Keats, Maya Angelou, William Blake, e. e. cumings. . . . .Is there a poem in this book by Jewel? I'm not telling . . . .kry


Axel, Brett, Ed. Will Work For Peace: New Political Poets.

Trenton, N.J.: Zeropanik Press, 1999

Slam poetry is separated from more academic poetry by the fact that while much of the poetry being produced in academic circles still strives for the Enlightenment ideal of producing something transcendent, slam poems are often more pragmatic. Slam poems are more often than not directed at the audience (when theyíre not directed at the judges, that is), and this means that slam poets are less afraid to use slam poems as vehicles for communicating politics and of-the-moment social issues. This is not to say that there aren’t academic poets who address political or time-bound issues, but rather to point out that the differing traditions of the two genres makes for generally different attitudes in the writers. Accordingly, Will Work for Peace is a rare collection of both slam and academic poetry (mostly slam) that will likely be of little interest to teachers of literature 200 years from now, but the whole point of slam is to write from the perspective that addressing the living breathing people in front of me is always better than writing for the folks who aren’t born yet, then that’s okay.... Axel has assembled a diverse array of voices, ranging from the deadly serious to the comedic, and its clear that he chose the poems on merit as opposed to “star power,” since about 80% of the writers collected here are not “famous,” in either slam or academic circles. There are some big names, a few Slam Nationals winners, a few Pulitzer winners, but one of the things that makes this collection so worthwhile is the new voices, those many poets whose outstanding work is often overshadowed by the big names. A flawless anthology, Will Work for Peace has expertly captured the spirit of contemporary political poetry and is a gem of a collection, a must-have . ( John Paul Davis )



Chin, Justin. Bite Hard.

San Francisco: Manic D Press, 1997.

After reading Justin Chin's BITE HARD, I decided Manic D Press was named in his honor, and I mean this in the best possible way. The collection of work in this book is an unrestrained burst of everything from wicked humor to intense grief, from lucid dreaming to the raw, uncensored, facts of life. While reading this collection, I got the feeling he was spitting out the details of his life onto the pages as he was experiencing them--never stopping to edit his desires and demands, (See: “These Nervous Days”). Of course, he also provides the reader with many useful tidbits, like in "Phone Sex,": "Fucking in cyberspace everyone stands a chance, depending on your vocabulary. (Once, some guy used the word 'discombobulate' and 'phallic signifier' in our smut talk. I came almost instantly)."

In contrast to his highly caffeinated rants are pieces like, "Bergamot," which turns heart-wrenching losses into the sweet language of remembrance, and "Refuging," which takes the delicate issue of grief and breaks it: "Some days, just go.// Leave it all behind.// Death is the only way out,//now that alcohol has failed//and AA meetings are
meaningless//as coffee and doughnuts." In this eight part poem that closes the book, he illustrates the pain of a detached cultural identity, losing lovers, and losing parts of himself in the process--wrestling all his manic thoughts into a poem I can only sum-up as beautifully depressing.

BITE HARD was published in 1997, and unlike other small-press releases that came out with a bang and are quickly forgotten, Chin's book continues to be a popular read. He has achieved a wide audience because he manages to do what writers often struggle with--he both maintains his identity and transcends it. In other words, Chin gives the blood and guts details on being Asian and being Gay, while addressing the universal issue
of being human.-Stephanie Costello



Lisick, Beth. Monkey Girl: Swingin' Tales.

San Francisco: Manic D Press, 1997

I first heard Beth Lisick at an open mic in Chicago last August. She was on tour with the riotous San Francisco group, Sister Spit. Like her boisterous sisters, Lisick pulled a hilarious, power-packed performance out of her bag of tricks that kicked up the energy level in the room about ten notches. So a couple months later when I was browsing the shelves at a Wicker Park bookstore, I came across Monkey Girl, and knew I had to own it. Well, what can I say? I'm a smart shopper.

This book pulsates with the outrageous talent I witnessed back in '99. Beth Lisick's tales of a swingin' life as a California girl are fun, punchy, and spiked with her comical outlook on life. Her performance style is evident in pieces like, "Skinny": "Come, here, Skinny. Come here little skinny, skinny, skinny. Come on over now skinny, its suppertime! Its time to eat now, skinny." Or "Crappy Brown Carpeting": "Crappy Brown carpeting never felt so good//S-A-T-U-R-D-A-Y Night//and I'm laying on it//smoking cigarettes and doing push-ups on it//cracking my back, talking really loud to myself//checking out my new bruises and burns on it//Saturday night."

Lisick is a masterful storyteller, and her work does as well on the page as it does on the stage. Her subject matter varies with each piece, but her tone stays true to her humorous style. Even in "Fix," when she speaks of the somber subject of loneliness, she twists the gloom into a laughable story about inter-personal bonding via a multitude of twelve-step recovery programs.... Her keen observations on life in the single girl's fast lane are bright, original, and entertaining. It is my humble opinion that a writer capable of illuminating life's simple truths without being so goddamned serious is truly gifted. Hats off to Ms. Lisick--Monkey Girl is the perfect dose of smart, comical, enlightenment.-Stephanie Costello


Videos in the Hostos Collection



Check the Library Web Page for upcoming Slam dates! To request these videos for class viewing or for any additional information about participating in the Poetry Slam, contact Prof. Miriam Laskin in the Library, room A-213H, at 518-4207 or