There are as many types of poetry as there are different styles of music. Books of poetry are usually confined to a shelf or two at a local bookstore, but if you want to buy a CD, you visit an entire store dedicated to music. When someone professes to like poetry, the reference is probably to a favourite type of poetry, and not all poetries—just as a jazz afficionado might dislike Country and Western, or a pop music fan might hate Metal.
OK, out with it already: this Torontoist contributor has been part of the local literary scene since 1995, but has never been to a poetry slam. It’s not because of a dislike for the performance-centred stylings of Spoken Word poets—it’s just that poetry is, well, “vast” and contains “multitudes.”
Toronto Poetry Slam seems to be doing perfectly O.K. without my attentions: Artistic Director David Silverberg says the monthly event draws two hundred people per show to its high-energy Spoken Word competitions (the website claims, “slams are to poetry readings what lightning is to static cling”). Since the slams are competitive, the organizers have established and posted the following rules:
1. The main event consists of three rounds of spoken word spoutoff, starting with 12 poets. All performers must have three pieces prepared. In the (frequent) event that more than 12 sign up, performers will be drawn randomly.
2. Poets are rated on both content and performance by five judges selected randomly from the audience. The audience is encouraged to influence the judges with applause or jeers; the poets are encouraged to influence the judges with drinks.
3. The highest and lowest scores for each poem are tossed, and the remaining three averaged. The six highest scoring poets progress to round two; the top three from that round progress to round three. One poet walks away with $75 cash.
4. Each poem must be maximum 3 minutes. There’s a 10-second grace period, after which the poet will suffer a .5 point penalty for every 10 seconds over 3:10. There is no minimum time.
5. No props, costumes, or musical instruments. Otherwise you lose a point. Overtly dramatic use of clothing included.
6. Reading from the page is allowed. So is memorizing.
7. No covers allowed. Each poem must be of the poet’s own creation.
Standings of poets are maintained on the group’s website, as winners of slams may advance to semi-final and final competitions, with the goal of representing the region at The Canadian Festival of Spoken Word. You can even view detailed scoresheets of each poet’s performance.
Check out this month’s Slam tonight (Saturday, April 14) at The Drake Underground, 1150 Queen Street West, with special guest Barbara Adler. To compete, sign-up one half-hour before the 8 p.m. start, and please report back in the comments!
Photos of The Audience (“currently working on its first novel”) and February winner Krystle Mullin courtesy of Toronto Poetry Slam.