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A Kick in the Arts.

The online home of Mark Niel: Poet, Writer, Actor, Promoter




Everything you ever wanted to know about Slams but were afraid to ask…

1. Enter Slams for the right reason. Winning isn’t everything and if that’s all you want to get out of it, it can lead to disappointment. Win with class, lose with dignity!

2. Slams are a great shop window for your talents so prepare thoroughly and choose poems that give a good representation of your work. Have cards or merchandise ready to make the most of your three minutes of fame!

3. The best poems or performances don’t always win (See point 5).

4. Every audience is different. The same set of poems and performances have won Slams or seen me go out in the first round.

5. Luck plays a part in winning Slams. Accept and embrace this. Sometimes it may go your way, other times it will seem to treat you unfairly. Make your peace with this and if you can’t, try open mics instead of Slams.

6. Rehearse your poems out loud and time them! You can’t control luck, but you can control your performance. Give yourself every chance.

7. If doing more than one poem, allow time for applause in between. If doing funny poems, allow time for laughter. If your poems are meant to be funny and no one laughs, I really can’t help you.

8. Poetry people can be great with words but rubbish with numbers. Keep a note of scores and check if you think there is a discrepancy. But please, do it politely and graciously.

9. Rules can differ from Slam to Slam depending on the organisers. DON’T ASSUME – ASK WHAT THEY ARE! Time allowed per round; Do they stop you at the time limit or allow you to go over for a grace period or deduct penalty points?; are props allowed?; is it one poem per round only? Is there a theme? If so follow it Etc

10. Most importantly: BE TRUE TO YOURSELF. I enjoy Slams whether I win them or not. If I have performed the material I chose, in the way I wanted and got a good audience response then I am satisfied with my evening’s work. Sometimes I’ve won, sometimes I haven’t but if I have connected with an audience, then that’s a good night’s work.

11. A Slam is an artificial environment that brings an audience together to listen to poetry. Winning is not the only way to make the most of them.

12. Don’t try to write “Slam winning poems”. You may know that a certain event favours humour, or issue-based pieces, or those with a lyrical quality, or a hip-hop style delivery. Trying to be something you’re not will strike a false note. 

13. Whilst you can’t always predict audience reaction, be aware of sensibilities in terms of the overuse of bad language or subject matter that some might find distasteful. NB Irony can be a fine line to walk. I have heard foul poems that are thinly veiled sexism, racism, misogyny etc  passed off as “irony” later. I don’t mind if you want to swear in poetry. The full range of all English words should be utilised but as with all poems, artful or clever use is far more effective than a blunt instrument.

14. Enjoy the Slam. Listen to the other poets. What did you like? What did the audience like? Did someone’s poem spark an idea in you? (I don’t mean copy or plagiarise!). I often find I am inspired after listening to a good reading or Slam.

15. Network, Network Network!!!!! Talk to your competitors, exchange cards, contact details. Ask what’s going on in their neck of the woods.

16. There is no substitute for stage time in building your skills. Do Open Mics, Slams, etc. Road test new material and redraft if necessary. Be open to feedback. Poems are living entities and they can grow, evolve or shape shift. I think the best poems are ones that find their own identity over time. You’ll know when it gets there.

17. When listening to a performance or reading, I think the poets you learn something about are the most interesting. So, leave something of yourself on the stage. If you really care about the slam, leave EVERYTHING on the stage. Don’t come off stage wishing you’d given it more effort.

18. Prepare your poems into rounds but be open to changing the order. For example: if someone performs a poem very similar to one of yours, you might want to leave that poem until the next round.

19. Certain factors outside of your control can go against you. The draw can be important as early slots tend not to be marked as highly as later slots. This is known as “Score Creep”. If you get an early draw this might be another time you decide to change the order of your sets and pull forward a “Crowd pleaser” you might have been saving for later rounds.

20. Winning isn’t everything! Yes this is déjà vu! For me a successful Slam is one where I’ve given a good account of myself, my talents and my work. If I get to do two rounds of a three round Slam, I will have performed five to six minutes in total – this is a feature spot at some gigs. Make it memorable. BE TRUE TO YOUSELF!!!!

© Mark Niel - A Kick in the Arts  November 2009  

For guest appearances or to book Mark’s Workshop “Putting the performance into Poetry” please contact Mark.

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Read my thoughts
and poetic musings
on my blog here

Read my Blog!

True Fiction

From today, you’ll notice Crime has gone missing
Vanished without a trace since yesterday.
Crime is now located in
the West Wing
As always, find Politics,
and you’re not far away

Adventure is just around
the corner
Though it can’t be seen
from current affairs
Philosophy you will have
to think about
It is close to Sex which
you’ll find upstairs

Yes, we’ve taken liberties with classification
You’ll pick it up, though at
first it seems like a mess
And since we moved
Religion next to Hygiene 
Cleanliness really is
next to godliness

If you’re looking for a murder, ask Jane on reception
Enquire nicely to avoid workplace friction
And due to overwhelming public demand
Political manifestos have now been moved to fiction

Crimes against humanity remain by management
And it seemed sensible to put Mediation by their side
Finally, if you can’t find Romance, see Jim
in the stockroom
Who tells me he’ll be only
too happy to oblige.


This poem was inspired by a notice in the staff room of Milton Keynes Central Library after a reorganisation
- true Story


Website Copyright Mark Niel 2009