How to Win a Slam Poetry Contest: Old Witches Never Die
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.
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.
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: 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,
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
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
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,
can they etch your soul with trouble.
Curtis Meyer is one of the best slam poets in the Orlando, Florida area.
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© 2014 Catherine Giordano