Stage a Poetry Slam: Creating Performance Poetry Events


How can I run my own slam?

For groups large and small, from single events to recurring programs, Stage a Poetry Slam explains the easy way to make your slams a success.

Stage a Poetry Slam is a comprehensive guide for both budding and seasoned Slammasters — people in charge of organizing and promoting poetry slams and spoken word events. Marc Kelly Smith, grand founder of the Slam movement and host of the original Uptown Poetry Slam, the one ...

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Stage a Poetry Slam: Creating Performance Poetry Events

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How can I run my own slam?

For groups large and small, from single events to recurring programs, Stage a Poetry Slam explains the easy way to make your slams a success.

Stage a Poetry Slam is a comprehensive guide for both budding and seasoned Slammasters — people in charge of organizing and promoting poetry slams and spoken word events. Marc Kelly Smith, grand founder of the Slam movement and host of the original Uptown Poetry Slam, the one that started them all, takes you back stage to reveal the techniques and strategies he's crafted over his 20 years plus of developing world-class Slam shows. In Stage a Poetry Slam, Marc leads you through the process of shaping your own Slam from vision to opening night, as you discover how to...

  • Fashion a crystal clear vision that drives the development of your first show
  • Plan a detailed itinerary for a Slam extravaganza
  • Scope out a venue that fits your vision
  • Choose the right stage type for maximum impact
  • Deal with the technical stuff — lights, mics, props, & drops
  • Recruit and organize emcees, volunteers, and other support
  • Discover talented performance poets and spoken word artists
  • Publicize and promote your show to attract an eager audience
  • Stage special shows for corporate and community events
  • Take ownership of your show, so it doesn't get hijacked
  • Negotiate fair compensation with club owners and other patrons of the arts

Stage a Poetry Slam is packed with practical, world-tested advice on how to craft a compelling spoken word poetry event and promote in such a way to pack the seats and leave a line out to the streets.

You'll also find a brief history of slam, the rules and regulations that govern official slam competitions, and a list of PSI (Poetry Slam, Inc.) Certified Slams, so you always have a place to visit to pick up ideas and talk shop with other Slammasters!

Marc Kelly Smith—the father of the poetry slam himself—shares his experiences from thousands of shows to get readers started, covering everything, including finding a venue, lighting and sound, managing performers, even getting publicity.

Stage a Poetry Slam is filled with insider tips, backstage advice, and examples that will wake up an audience and keep them coming back. You'll also be able to go online to the community to listen to the samples, meet poets, and discover new inspirations. It's showtime!

The ultimate guide for anyone who wants to run a slam or performance poetry show

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781402218989
  • Publisher: Sourcebooks
  • Publication date: 4/1/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 282
  • Sales rank: 830,191
  • Product dimensions: 8.00 (w) x 6.12 (h) x 0.73 (d)

Meet the Author

Marc Smith began the poetry slam over twenty years ago at the Green Mill in Chicago. He is the co-editor of The Spoken Word Revolution and The Spoken Word Revolution Redux. Joe Kraynak has written or co-written dozens of books ranging from computer basics to poetry.

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Read an Excerpt


Slams are captivating poetry events that focus an audience's attention on the presentation of poetry that's been composed, polished, and rehearsed for the purpose of being performed—very often in a competitive arena. A slam can be a carnival, a pageant, an interactive classroom, a town meeting, a con game, a versified boxing match, and a churchlike revival all rolled into one mind-bending, border-breaking event constructed to electrify and animate the people listening to and watching it, as well as the performers who bring their words, bodies, and voices to life onstage to actuate it.

As you'll learn in the chapters to come, competition is not the solitary heartbeat at the core of the poetry slam, but it has been an important catalyst to its growth. In tournaments around the world competitive slam poets battle against one another like wrestlers vying for a championship belt. Poets of all ages and all cultures participate in local, national, and international poetry slam competitions to claim superiority as both poet and performer, and to have their words heard by high energy audiences known to roar approval or stomp their boots in scorn for the poetics they love or pretend to hate.

Where Is Slam?
Poetry slams can be found nearly anywhere—in schools, between office cubicles, at festivals, in bars, at wedding celebrations, at museums, in cultural centers, and even in Laundromats. Performance poets have trained themselves to succeed wherever and in whatever context they're called on to emote—bowling alleys, churches, temples, pool halls, street fairs, commuter trains, discotheques, you name it. The slam's mission has been to throw off the shackles of how and where poetry should be presented. "Try anything and go anywhere" has been the creed. Seek out an audience and compel them to listen. If you can stop bowling balls with a line of verse, you're slammin'.

What the Slam Can Do for You
Slam's primary mission is to garner new audiences for poetry by making it entertaining and accessible. Around the world slams have attracted thousands of new folks to an art form they thought too highfalutin for their tastes. If you're a producer of poetry events or just a lover of poetry and wish to expand attendance at your events, the slam can do that for you. If your programming has become too predictable, too status quo, then slam principles can breathe new life into it. If you're a teacher experiencing difficulty inspiring your students to open poetry texts, the slam can compel those same students to beg you for more to read.

In a nutshell, the slam has made poetry as vital and as popular an art form as any other performing art. For those who become involved in creating shows and performing onstage, slam has the power to transform individuals and build communities. Lost souls, many who have become the best and brightest of the slam tradition, have discovered their voices and built confidence through the slam.

What You Can Do for the Slam
As slam organizer, you're the catalyst who can make it all happen. You set the stage for the poet performers. You generate the buzz that attracts the crowds. You conduct the show as emcee or recruit a suitable personality to keep the show moving forward and the audience engaged and entertained. Without you, slams don't happen.

This book is dedicated to you. Through it, I hope to equip you with the skills to make your slam happen. Here, I take you through the process of building your own slam from scratch—locating the right venue; recruiting volunteers; setting the stage, including lighting and sound; lining up performance poets; publicizing your show to raise it to the status of spectacle; and growing your show nationally and internationally.

I wrote this book for everyone who's interested in infusing their community with the energy of performance poetry and breathing new life into an art form that had nearly died. Whether you're a teacher dedicated to drawing students to poetry, an owner of a bar or coffee shop looking to deliver an invigorating form of entertainment to your patrons, or a regular Joe or Josephine determined to liven up your community with something more intellectually stimulating than a wet T-shirt contest, this book is for you.

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Table of Contents

Where Is Slam?
What the Slam Can Do for You
What You Can Do for the Slam
A Note from the Publisher

Chapter 1: Digging the Roots of Spoken Word Poetry
Spoken Word Poetry's Long Tradition
Battling Bards
Coming of Age in the 21st Century

Who Inspired This Madness? and Why?
Slam Poetry Goes National
Slam Poetry Goes Global
Slam Poetry Here and Now
If you remember anything, remember…

Chapter 2: Soaking in the Spirit of Slam
The Big Definition of Slam
Poetry and Performance
Staged Bouts for Audience Appeal
"The Points Are Not the Point"

Sowing the Seeds of Slam
Striving for the Best of Both Worlds
Relearning the Art of Listening
Boo! Hiss! Audience with Attitude
Other Strategies Audiences Employ
Who's the Best and Who Cares
Performance Poet as Audience Servant
"As Dr. Willie Used to Say"

Behind the Slam Curtain
Breaking Down the Color (and Collar) Barriers
The Culture of Democracy
If you remember anything, remember…

Chapter 3: Slam Competition—Rules, Regulations, and Other Formalities
It's a Game, Stupid!
A Familiar Format
The First Slam Competition
Who Says Who Wins?

The Basic Rules of Slam Engagement
Perform Your Own Work
Three Minutes Is All We Can Stand
No Props, Costumes, Trombones, or Other Carry-On Luggage
Scoring: 0 to 10 (or Down to Minus Infinity)

Make the Process Fun
Signing 'Em Up
Picking the Judges
Alternative Styles of Judging

Famous Slam Disclaimers
The Mean Chicago Rules
The Official Emcee Spiel Used at the National Poetry Slams

It's Your Thing, Do What You Want to Do…To a Point
Slams Are Open to All
All Styles, Forms, and Subject Matter Are Welcome
The Prize Is Not the Point

The All-Important Audience Should Always Be in Control
If you remember anything, remember…

Chapter 4: Should I Become a Slammaster?
Do You Have the Itch?
Taking Inventory—Do You Have What It Takes?
Are You Doing This for Yourself?
Do You Have a Vision?
Do You Have a Support Network?
Do You Have the Time and Energy?
Are You a Show Maker?
Are You as Crazy as the Rest of Us?

Tallying Your Talents and Resources
Been There, Seen That
Been There, Done That

Anticipating the Obstacles Ahead
The Hoity-Toity Establishment
Cash Flow Problems
Shifting Sands—Unforeseen Changes
Pettiness and Social Hostility
If you remember anything, remember…

Chapter 5: Sharpening Your Vision
Finding Form in Your Musings
Look Inside: Identify Your Personal Needs
Look Around: Discover Your Community's Needs
Look Back: At What You've Seen & Heard

Sampling the Many Flavors of Slam
The Original Format
The Unseen Slam
Theme Slams

Pong Jam Slam—Music to the Poetic Ear
Other Slam Spin-Offs—An Ever-Evolving Art
Heading for the Nationals—Serious Slammin'… Sort of
If you remember anything, remember…

Chapter 6: Plotting Your Show: All Aboard Slampapi's Entertainment Express
The Entertainment Express—Scheduling Departure and Arrival Times
The Main Station Stops
Open Mic
Special Acts and Guest Performers
The Competition
Adding Some Bulk to Our Bare Bones Schedule

Detailing Your Trip Tick
Lace the Evening with Ceremony and Ritual
Bring It On—Heckles, Jekylls, and Hydes
Jacks in the Box
To Spin or Not to Spin?
Fleshing Out Our Sample Slam Journey

Final Considerations
Marketing Power
Leave 'Em Wanting More
If you remember anything, remember…

Chapter 7: Scoping Out the Right Venue
Compose a Venue Wish List
Size Matters
Think Small—Small Enough to Create a Happening
Think Bigger…When Necessary
Going Colossal

Ambience Is Everything
Designed for Comfort
Dripping with Character
Supportive Service Staff
Enthusiastic Clientele
Conducive Background Music
A Supportive Owner

Frame the Picture
What about the Stage?
Checking for Essentials: Necessary Services
Location, Location, Location

Write All This Down
At the Sound of Ohhmmm, Begin the Search
Finger Walking
The Net Search
Hit the Pavement
Hook Up with Your Connections

Judgment Day
What Night's Right?
The Initial Reconnaissance
Don't Jump before You Have To

Closing the Deal
Money Talk
Who Does What?
Hey! I Can't Find a Venue!
If you remember anything, remember…

Chapter 8: All the Slam's a Stage .
Poet-in-a-Box: The Black Box
Above the Crowd on the Bandstand
The Spartan Stage: Cleared Space
The Great Hall
The Big-Time Stage: The Proscenium
Bring on the Bells and Whistles
Bigger's Not Always Better

The Outdoor Stage: Help!
Speak Up, They Can't Hear Ya!
Think Big

The Rickety Rent-a-Stage
What? No Stage?! No Cleared Space?!
Worse Than Nothing: Bad Scenes
If you remember anything, remember…

Chapter 9: Let's Get Technical
Tuning In Sound Systems—Can You Hear Me Now? . . . .
Omni- or Unidirectional Microphones
Microphone Stands
Four-Channel Mixer
Graphic EQ Settings
Speakers & Speaker Location

Light 'Em If They Got 'Em
Lights Up, Lights Down
Homespun Lighting Systems
Top-Shelf Lighting

Puttin' Out the Glitz
Dressing Up the Poets & Stage
Back-Up Beats, Styles, & Rhythms
Slide Shows
Props and Drops
If you remember anything, remember…

Chapter 10: Choosing & Organizing Your Crew
Flying Solo
Whipping Up a Preshow Checklist
Creating Your Showtime Checklist
Drafting Your Postshow Checklist

Partnerships, Committees, Co-ops, & Chaos
A Partnership of Two or Three
By Committee
The Three Tier Model—Combining the Best of All Worlds

Help Wanted—Key Positions to Fill…If You Can
Scouting and Booking Talented Performance Poets
Scouting Talent
Booking Talent
Emcees Wanted—Charisma Required
Auditioning Emcees
Relief Pitchers—Cohosts Need Charisma, Too
Offstage Support
Sound and Light Technicians
Door Person
Merchandise Sellers
In-House Ensembles
Trustworthy and Reliable Assistants
If you remember anything, remember…

Chapter 11: Getting the Word Out: Publicizing Your Show
Know What You're Promoting
Form Follows Function—Marketing Materials
Branding Logo
Cheap, but Effective: Flyers and Postcards
Not as Cheap, but Very Effective: Posters

Generating Feature Stories, Interviews, and Media Attention
Step 1: Write a Press Release
Step 2: Send the Press Release
Step 3: Call 'Em
Work Your Angle
Press the Airwaves

More Methods for Getting the Word Out
Free Listings
Managing Mailing (and Emailing) Lists
Paid Ads

Establishing a Web Presence
Launch a Website
Populate Your Website or Blog with Content
Promote Your Website or Blog
Explore Social Networks
Share Podcasts of Show Highlights
Post Video Clips on YouTube
Never Underestimate Word of Mouth
Press the Flesh
Cool Calls

How Much Promoting…and to Whom?
How Many People Do You Need to Reach?
Motivating Yourself with Deadlines
The Push
If you remember anything, remember...

Chapter 12: Expanding Your Market: Special Shows
Courting the Institutions
Types of Institutions
Getting Your Iambic Toe in the Door
Book Fairs and Festival
Corporate Conventions and Programming
Benefits and Their Paybacks

Shaping Your Show for the Expanded Market
Motorcycle Slam
Celebrity Slam
Slam Dunk Poetry Day

Other Twists
The Youth Slam
The Music + Poetry + Slam Slam
Bah! Humbug! The Holiday Slam

From Nothing Something Slams
Fat Tuesday Celebration of the Seven Deadly Sins
Chi Town Classic
Slammin' across America

Your Overall Strategy
If you remember anything, remember…

Chapter 13: Taking Ownership of Your Show
When All Is Said and Done…Do More
Greeting Your Guests with Grace and Grin
Introducing Guest to Guest
Acting as the Maître D'

Setting a Stage, Not a Pedestal
Watch the Clock—Starting on Time
Fueling Audience Frenzy
Making the Most of a $lam $ituation
Preserving the History
Creating Anthologies
Burning Compilation CDs
Designing T-Shirts and Souvenirs
Establishing Profitable Partnerships

Absurd Ambitions and Other Worldly Temptations
If you remember anything, remember…

Appendix A: Slammers:
Performance Poetry
Poetry Collections
Audio & Video Recordings
Publishers of Slam Poetry

Appendix B: Books on Poetics & Performing

Appendix C: PSI—Certified Slams

About the Authors

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