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How to Win a Slam Poetry Contest: Old Witches Never Die

Updated on December 7, 2016
CatherineGiordano profile image

Catherine Giordano is the author of a book of essays and her poems, essays, and short fiction have appeared in magazines and anthologies.

What is slam poetry?
What is slam poetry? | Source

What is Slam Poetry?

Slam poetry is high-energy, anything-goes, no holds-barred performance art. It’s like a rap song without the music. It’s like a rant only with poetic technique. It’s like a roller coaster with words.

There is a strong emphasis on story-telling, emotion, and rhythm. If rhyme is used, it is manic rhyme. It is rhyme piled upon rhyme. No nice “a-b, a-b” rhyme schemes here. Metaphor, simile, and alliteration are commonly used—these are important poetic techniques in all forms of poetry.

The poems are often humorous, but they can also be serious. They can be about love. They can be about sex, and if they are about sex, the bawdier and raunchier the better. They can be about political or social commentary. They can be autobiographical. They can even be sad.

One thing they are not is pretty. If you enter a poetry slam, leave the hearts and flowers home.

Also, they are not poetry readings. The poems are performed, so they must be memorized.

Slam poems are high-energy performance art.
Slam poems are high-energy performance art. | Source

What are Slam Poetry Contests?

Slam poetry contests are fun. Some contests offer large prizes, but often they are just loosely organized events held in a local bar or other venue.

At a poetry slam, there will be a panel of five judges, sometimes chosen from the audience. The judges will rate each performance the way Olympic performances are rated—on a scale of one to ten using the tenths, for example: 7.2, 8.7, and 9.2. The highest and the lowest scores will be dropped. The three scores in the middle will be averaged.

Before the slam, a non-contestant will do a poem, so the judges can “calibrate” their scores. This means the judges can get a sense of how the other judges are scoring so they can view the performances with a similar mindset.

After each contestant has performed, the lowest scoring contestants are eliminated. If a time limit has been set, any performer who went over time is also eliminated.

The contestants perform a different poem for the second round and the scoring procedure is repeated. The slam may end with the second round, or there may be a third round if there were a lot of contestants at the start.

At the end of the last round, the final scores for each contestant is determined by adding his scores from all of the rounds together. The top three scorers become the first, second and third place winners.

How Did I Become the Accidental Slammer?

Orlando Florida, where I live, has an annual ten-day festival or plays called “Florida Fringe” held in the Spring. In addition to the plays, there is a bandstand area for various free performances, for instance bands or singers. I was there on poetry night. After a few poetry readings, the evening was capped off with a poetry slam.

I hadn’t planned on entering. I was sitting in the audience waiting for the slam to begin when one of the organizers approached me. He told me they didn’t have enough entrants (or maybe the entrants hadn’t shown up), and asked me if I had a poem I could do to help out.

I hadn’t memorized or rehearsed anything, but I did have my book, The Poetry Connection, in my car. (I always have my books in my car—you never know when someone will want to buy one.) There were a couple of poems in the book that could (just barely) qualify as slam poetry, so I agreed.

As it turned out, the other contestants turned up, so I could have dropped out, But by then I was psyched to do this, so I stayed in the contest. I had to read the poems from my book, but I just wanted to see if I could do a slam.

My first poem was “Embracing My Inner Crone.” It details all the indignities and insults that nature inflicts upon a woman’s aging body, but ends on an upbeat note.(Click to read it.)

I made it to the second round, primarily because some of the best performers went over time and got eliminated. (I think they just wanted to try out their material and weren’t interested in winning. This wasn’t a high profile contest and there weren’t any significant prizes.) I performed “Old Witches Never Die,” a poem where I use witches as a metaphor for negative emotions like hate, shame, and envy. I really hammed it up. I snarled the words. I spat the words. I slammed the words. (You can read the poem below.)

The other performers were magnificent; I felt totally outclassed. But for whatever reasons, the judges gave me high scores--scores comparable to the scores of the other performers. Maybe my poems and performances were really good. Maybe they just didn’t want to hurt my feelings. Maybe they were a little drunk--we were right next to the bar tent.

It clearly wasn’t a serious contest. (The prize was a chocolate Easter bunny.) In a serious contest, the judges don’t give commentary. Tonight, they did. One of the judges, an actress in one of the Fringe Festival plays, rendered her judgments in character as a boozy, but kindly, middle-aged woman with some undefined foreign accent, who flirted with everyone. There was also a male judge who gave a sexy female contestant a 9.9 score saying, “I thought if I gave her a high score, she would sleep with me.” (She didn’t. She left with her boyfriend.)

I came in third, with a score only a point or two lower that the first and second place winners. I didn’t enter to win, but winning made it more fun.Thank you, judges, for your high scores. Even with low scores, I would have had fun. But high scores made it a lot more fun.

"Old Witches Never Die" is a poem which uses witches as a metaphor for negative emotions.
"Old Witches Never Die" is a poem which uses witches as a metaphor for negative emotions. | Source

Old Witches Never Die: A Poem


Ding Dong, the wicked witch is dead!

So there’s nothing more to be said?

Except this statement does belie

the fact that

we know old witches never die.


They are like an undead monster—

Despite it all, they live forever.

They stay out of sight, well hidden,

until they

can lurch to life unbidden.


There is a witch who is named Fear.

She’s always present, always near.

Her spell, her dire consequence,

is that she

cruelly erodes your confidence.


Another witch is the one called Hate.

How she mangles and maims your fate!

She is burrowed deep in your heart

just waiting,

to pounce and tear your life apart.


Let’s not forget the one called Rage.

She looses anger from its cage.

She steals calm and brings disquiet,

when she does

suddenly bring forth a riot.


Then there’s the twins, one called Envy,

The other is known as Jealousy.

They gnaw at your guts, this soulless pair,

and when done

they spit them out and disgorge despair.


Another witch, her name is Sadness—

She brings her own kind of badness.

The doldrums, the dumps, depression

is her way

of blighting joy and expression.


One last foul sister, call her Shame.

We hang our head and take on blame.

She creeps up and spews her poison

leaving you

feeling worthless, failed, and undone.


We can choose, and we can decide!

We can commit a witch-a-cide!

We choose happiness and the light,

and we can

cast out the demons of the night.


We can stand against them, bar the door.

Banish them to some distant shore.

Caldron boil and cauldron bubble,

no longer

can they etch your soul with trouble.

Curtis Meyer is one of the best slam poets in the Orlando, Florida area.

Please give your opinion.

How do you feel about slam poetry?

See results

© 2014 Catherine Giordano

Here is the place for your opinions. Slam away!

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    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 2 years ago from Orlando Florida

      No new slam poetry contests beside that one. I'm totally outclassed. I just did that one for fun. It was my second contest. I have a slam poem I am working on--way too off color to put on web pages--which I might do sometime in the future. Thank you, Perpycacious, for taking the time to comment. Are you planning on slamming?

    • Perspycacious profile image

      Demas W Jasper 2 years ago from Today's America and The World Beyond

      Now the really big question: in how many more slam poetry events have you also been a contestant, after that first one?

      Have you intentionally written any "slam" poems that could be performed?

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks for your comment. I'm glad I gave you an idea for a new entertainment option. an evening of fun--you'll laugh a lot--for the price of a coffee or a drink.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 3 years ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is such an interesting hub! I love the information about slam poetry as well as your poem. I enjoy poetry, but I've never thought of attending a slam poetry performance. I'm looking forward to seeing one now that I've read your hub.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      It was a bit of luck. Not a whole of entrants and some timed-out. But still a thrill to win and fun to be in.

    • DealForALiving profile image

      Sam Deal 3 years ago from Earth

      That's awesome that you came in third place with your poem! Poetry slam events are so much fun to attend.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Slam poetry was new to me until a couple of years ago. I hope you get to go to a slam poetry event in person. It's a lot of fun.

    • CrisSp profile image

      CrisSp 3 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      I knew about slam poetry and I always thought it's interesting. I used to recite poetry in class and on stage when I was in high school. We call it recital then. I've watched a few clips of slam poetry on youtube and it's brilliant. Would be nice to actually see a live performance.

      Good, enjoyable hub. Welcome to HP.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thanks for the comment. Find a slam in your local area. You'll have fun.

    • AudreyHowitt profile image

      Audrey Howitt 3 years ago from California

      I have never been to a slam--but I bet it is fun! Enjoyed this!

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Slams are fun. Just to watch or to compete. find a local one an go to it. You'll have a really good time. I'm glad you liked my poem. I discovered poems are like an "easy A" on the college course list. If I already have a poem, I add an intro on the same topic, and my hub is done in half the time it usually takes. I'm going to take a look at your poems.

    • Writer Fox profile image

      Writer Fox 3 years ago from the wadi near the little river

      How nice to find a fellow poet! Enjoyed your account of the slam poetry contest. I've seen some really funny ones on YouTube.

      I've participated in performance poetry, but not slams. Looks like fun.

    • CatherineGiordano profile image
      Author

      Catherine Giordano 3 years ago from Orlando Florida

      Thank you for your comment. I'm so pleased you liked the poem. I hope you will attend a slam poetry contest sometime. It is really fun.

    • carrie Lee Night profile image

      Kept private 3 years ago from Northeast United States

      Thank you for introducing me to the unknown world of slam poetry :). Loved your poem ! :)