The poetry slam format varies from place to place. The common features are:
1) A good number of student poets- some suggest 10 or more, but less will
2) 5 judges to rate the poets on a scale from 1 to 10. The judges should be
instructed to use tenths of points, so it is easier to break ties. Poets are
judged for performance and poetry, usually half and half. The judges need
not be experienced readers of poetry.
3) The judges need cards to write scores on, or pieces of paper and markers
to write with.
4) The order of who performs should be determined by random picks. You can
do this by putting all the names into a hat, or other recepticle & picking
them out.
5) There needs to be an MC to announce the poets.
6) The poets perform their poems - 3 minute time limit w/penalties for going
over-1/2 a point for every ten seconds over 3 minutes. 10 second grace
period after 3 minutes. Penalties kick in at 3:10.
7) Audience cheers after poet finishes and judges are scoring.
8) Judges scores are held up. If the audience does not agree with the
scores, they should be encouraged to react. At the Nationals, they were
encouraged to boo, but here in Chicago, we shout, "Listen to the poem," or,
"Listen to the poet." I like this method better as it shows the poets that
we (the audience) are listening.
9) Low and high scores are dropped and the middle three are tallied.
10) The poet with the most points at the end wins!

All through this, especially at the beginning, the poets and the audience
need to be reminded that it's not about the points, it's about the poetry.

Tim Mooney


Here are a couple of links from Marc Smith's site. He is the "inventor" of the
poetry slam: