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Poetry Slam Guidelines


  • 1) Poems can be on any subject and in any style.
  • 2) Each poet must perform work that s/he has created.
  • 3) Props are generally not allowed, but poets are allowed to use the given environment the venue offers such as microphones, mic stands, the stage itself, chairs on stage, a table or bar top, the aisle as long as these accouterments are available to other competitors as well.

4) No musical instruments or pre-recorded music. 5) No costumes. Poets may receive a two-point deduction for violation of the costume rules.


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 contumely.

The No Repeat Rule.

A poem may be used only once during the entire tournament, with the exception of finals, where poems used earlier in the tournament may be repeated.

The Three-Minute Rule.

No performance should last longer than three minutes. The time begins when the performance begins, which may well be before the first utterance is made. A poet is certainly allowed several full seconds to adjust the microphone and get settled and ready, but as soon as s/he makes a connection with the audience (“Hey look, she’s been standing there for 10 seconds and hasn’t even moved”), the timekeeper can start the clock. The poet does not have an unlimited amount of “mime time.” Poetry Slam, Inc. The Official Poetry Slam Handbook 31 Poets with ambiguous beginnings and endings to their performances should seek out the timekeeper at each venue to settle on a starting & ending time. After three minutes, there is a 10-second grace period (up to and including 3:10:00). Starting at 3:10:01, a penalty is automatically deducted from each poet’s overall score according to the following schedule: 3:10 and under 3:10:01 3:20 3:20:01 3:30 3:30:01 3:40 3:40:01 3:50 no penalty -0.5 -1.0 -1.5 -2.0 and so on [-0.5 for every 10 seconds over 3:10] (An additional 10 seconds is permitted in the finals without penalty.) The announcement of the time penalty and its consequent deduction will be made by the MC or scorekeeper after all the judges have reported their scores. The judges should not even be told that a poet went overtime until it is too late for them to adjust their scores.

Maximum Time Limit. After four minutes, only the MC must stop a poet from continuing to perform.

Influencing the crowd before the bout begins.

Poets are allowed to talk casually with anyone in the crowd before the bout begins (except the judges, if they have already been chosen). They are not, however, allowed to give anything to the audience or have anyone do this for them. Furthermore, inside the venue (in the presence or within earshot of the audience) they must not act in any way that would make more of an impression than another competitor waiting for the competition to begin. Poets who violate this rule will be given one warning by the MC, Bout Manager, or house manager. Further violation will result in a two-point penalty for that poet’s score (or his team).


Poetry Slam, Inc. The Official Poetry Slam Handbook 32 Each bout will have 4 rotations. In each rotation, each team will perform once. Every rotation must represent the work of a different primary author. Refer to Section VI (Definitions) for further clarification on primary authorship. No individual poet may perform solo more than once in a bout, except in the case of a tiebreaker. Teams violating this rule will receive a score of zero for the offending rotation.