What Is Slam Poetry?

August 19, 2015
inkwell pen paper

What is slam poetry?

It is a poetry competition where poets perform their original work either individually or in teams. These poems are usually written to be performed, which means that the words may be chosen for their meanings but also for the way they sound when spoken aloud.

American poet Marc Smith founded the original International Poetry Slam movement in 1987 as an initiative to introduce a looser poetry medium as opposed to the typically-structured academic poetry. The first poetry slam competition was held in San Fransisco in 1990.

Slam poems are meant to provoke and challenge (minds and ideas, ofcourse). Having said that, the topics that are usually performed tend to be a bit on the heavy side (and sometimes, controversial) for instance religion, sexual orientations and mental illnesses.

How does slam poetry work?

Poets will go through a few rounds of slams where they perform different poems in each round. These poems, however, must be their original work and must fall under the specific theme of the competition. They will be judged by the content of the poems as well as the effectiveness of their delivery – the emotions that they convey and the enthusiasm in their performance.

Traditionally, slam poetry does not employ the service of a professional poet or an academic to judge the slam. Instead, a few random people from the audience will be selected as judges. They will be entrusted to award points to the poets based on their poems and performances.


What are the rules of slam poetry?

Rules may vary between different competitions, but generally:
1) The poem must be an original work of the poet;
2) Each poet gets a time duration to perform, and if they go over the time points will be deducted;
3) The poet must not use props, costumes or musical instruments.


How is the poetry slam scene in Malaysia?

The first poetry slam was held in 2008 at The Loft in Zouk.
It is still considerably new and pretty much ‘underground,’ but spoken word poetry on the other hand is getting more recognition, especially with Gaslight Cafe’s “If Walls Could Talk” happening twice a month – an open mic spoken word session where anyone and everyone can perform. What’s the difference between spoken word and slam poetry? To simplify, spoken word is another method of storytelling, only in the form of poetry. No competitions, judges, no time limit – just the poet and his/her words.

If you’re interested to join a poetry slam, you’re in luck! We’ll have one for EJ Open House this 19th of September. Details here!