KenyanPoet at Poetry Slam; A rough guide into Slams

Anyone living in Nairobi will attest to the fast growth of poetry performance in recent years. I have talked of this in my previous posts on this forum(here) and here.

With almost 3 constant Poetry performance forums every month, many budding poets as well as those who have been in the game for long have been thronging these venues. What is evident is also the interest it has sparked among those who were only writing their poetic pieces but hoping to one day have them published. The open mic sessions which are usually incorporated in these night’s performances gives a chance to such potential performing poets and with great sucess I must say.

It has however become abit mind boggling telling the difference between these terms:- Poetry reading, Poetry performance and spoken world performance. Many might say there isn’t much difference. That is why Imani INC(Yes by Imani the Poet) and Spark Africa(Buddha Blaze) came together to start the first Slam poetry of its kind in Kenya, and to an extent, Africa.

The idea behind the slam is not for the competition but mainly to set standards in poetry/spoken word performance(we may use the word benchmark). In a previous post on this forum, I tackled this question, “What is Spoken word performance?” If you have watched any DefJam poetry shows then you will get the drift.

This Friday, 11th July 08, come to the Dass Restaurant for a poetry slam night. This will be the first in a series of Slam events that will be held all over Africa, a culmination of Slam Africa Competition that will seek to find the best Spoken word performer in Africa.

Your’s truly will be among those competing, so come on and show your love. “It will be a metamorphosis of poetry”by Imani Woomera

What is Poetry slam and how does it work?

Simply put, poetry slam is the competitive art of performance poetry. Established in the mid-80s as a means to heighten public interest in poetry readings, slam has evolved into an international art form emphasizing audience involvement and poetic excellence.

In the majority of slam series, organizers stage weekly or monthly events in a public space, such as a bar or cafe.


Marc Smith is credited with starting the poetry slam at the Get Me High Lounge in Chicago in November 1984 In July 1986, the slam moved to its permanent Chicago home, the Green Mill Jazz Club. In 1990, the first National Poetry Slam took place in Fort Mason, San Fransisco, involving a team from Chicago, a team from San Francisco, and an individual poet from New York. The National Poetry Slam has grown and currently features approximately 75 certified teams each year, culminating in five days of competition. National poetry slam results

Slam Poetry Rules

Poets wishing to compete sign up with a host, and the host finds five audience members who wish to serve as judges. Poets must follow a series of rules: the poems must be of each poet’s own construction, the poet may not use props, costumes, or musical instruments, and if the poet goes over the time limit (three minutes plus a 10-second grace period), points are deducted from his or her score. Judges, who are encouraged to factor both content and performance into their evaluations, judge each poet on a 0.0 to 10.0 scale. The high score and low score are dropped, and the middle three scores become the score for that particular poet.

To insure that the entire audience is involved, the host encourages the audience to respond to the poet in any way they see fit, be it impassioned cheering or lusty booing. The judges, in turn, are encouraged to remain consistent with themselves and not let the audience influence them.

In a typical competition, all poets read one poem in the first round. Based on the scores they receive, the top-scoring poets go on to the second round, and from that pool, a smaller number of the highest-scoring poets in the second round go on to the third and final round. While the specifics vary from slam to slam, certified slams adhere to this basic structure, insuring that poets must seek to make immediate connections with the audience in order to continue on. Cash prizes or other prizes are offered to the winner as further impetus for performing well. In most cities, the slam series culminates with a final slam at the end of the season to determine which poets will represent the city at the National Poetry Slam.
Slam Poetry Style & Influences
Poetry slams feature a broad range of voices, styles, cultural traditions, and approaches to writing and performance. Some poets are closely associated with the vocal delivery style found in hip-hop music and draw heavily on the tradition of dub poetry, a rhythmic and politicized genre belonging to black and particularly West Indian culture. Others employ an unrhyming narrative formula. Some use traditional theatric devices including shifting voices and tones, while others may recite an entire poem in ironic monotone. Some poets use nothing but their words to deliver a poem, while others stretch the boundaries of the format, tap-dancing or beatboxing or using highly-choreographed movements.

Succes of Slam Events

By adhering to a structure that factors in the audience at such a basic and integral level, slams have emerged as the most vital and best-attended of many cities’ regular poetry events. Whereas many open mike events tend to serve either the poets who participate or a particular target community, slam’s emphasis on addressing the audience has garnered slam a more inclusive, more diverse audience than the typical poetry reading. By marrying poetry with competition, slam has allowed non-traditional audiences a tangible and intriguing avenue for experiencing poetry in a live prime-time setting.

“The spoken word revolution is led a lot by women and by poets of color. It gives a depth to the nation’s dialogue that you don’t hear on the floor of Congress. I want a floor of Congress to look more like a National Poetry Slam. That would make me happy.” Bob Holman

Read about the complete history of Slam Poetry.

About Kenyan Poet

Showcasing the best in Kenyan Arts;Music,writing,Poetry,fine art and art reviews as well as info on emerging art trends. “Art is not about thinking something up. It is the opposite…getting something down.”