Rounds and Repertoire: On Expanding Slam

Slamalamadingdong! is going PSI, or Poetry Slam, Incorporated, certified. Here’s what that means.

In the 1980s, a construction worker named Marc Smith (SO WHAT?) invented the poetry slam, a unique competition where randomly selected audience members scored poets’ performances on a numerical scale and chose the winner. The format quickly gained popularity all over the States, and eventually the world. Poetry Slam, Incorporated, or PSI, is the official non-profit organization that oversees the international coalition of poetry slams – and Slamalamadingdong will soon be certified as an official PSI slam.

What does that mean for Slama?

The biggest change will be the number of rounds. All PSI-certified slams have three rounds, as opposed to Slama’s one round. This gives poets a chance to showcase a variety of their own, original work to and build rapport with the audience, as well as respond to the poets before them, over the course of several rounds. The time limit, 3 minutes and a 10-second grace period for one poem – that starts as soon as the poet makes a connection with the audience, verbal or otherwise – will remain unchanged, and points will still be deducted for going over time. The no props, costumes, or musical instruments rule is still in place. Each judge will score each poet from 0 to 10, and though there are five judges picked from the audience – none of whom are intimately connected with any of the competing poets – the highest and lowest scores will be dropped, meaning each poet will receive a score between 0 and 30.

The new creative producers of Slamalamadingdong, Arielle Cottingham, Sam Ferrante, and Will Beale of the Three Ring Circus Poetry Collective, aim to use PSI certification to bring the poetry of Melbourne to the international stage. With PSI certification, Slamalamadingdong will be eligible to send poets to compete in the Individual World Poetry Slam, Women of the World Poetry Slam, and the National Poetry Slam held in the United States, among other international poetry slams. We hope to grow the audience for poetry via an accessible format like slam, as well as foster an even more closely-knit community by bringing together poets from across generations to help our own internationally competing poets workshop their pieces to represent Melbourne poetry all over the world.

Many people today find poetry and spoken word through videos of slams on the internet, and as such tend to adopt the so-called “slam cadence” in their performances. We hope to encourage poets who compete at Slama to move beyond the often-critiqued “YouTube style” of many slam poets and find their own, personal style of performance, especially in an effort to help poets hone their craft as both writers and performers. Critics of slam also cite the cutthroat attitude of many slam poets who write direct response pieces to other poets as a strategy to win, rather than for the sake of furthering their artistic selves. At Slamalamadingdong, we want to discourage the idea of writing for other people, so that poets can focus on finding their own voices, and in doing so, help their fellow members of the community to grow as artists and writers themselves.

In the immortal words of every slam master ever, “The points are not the point. The point is poetry.” Poetry slams were created to give people access to poetry and to broaden the art form’s audiences. With its new 3-round format and PSI certification, Slamalamadingdong will be able to bring Melbourne’s stunning poetry to the rest of the world.

Photo by John Englezos

Arielle Cottingham
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