I. Poems and Performance

  1. Poems can be on any subject and in any style.
  2. Each poet must perform work that s/he has created.
  3. No props.
    Generally, poets are allowed to use their given environment and the accoutrements it offers - microphones, mic stands, the stage itself, chairs on stage, a table or bar top, the aisle - as long as these accoutrements are available to other competitors as well. The rule concerning props is not intended to squelch the spontaneity, unpredictability, or on-the-fly choreography that people love about the slam; its intent is to keep the focus on the words rather than objects. Refer to Section V (Definitions) for further clarification on what is and is not a prop. Teams or individuals who inadvertently use a prop (for example, a timely yet unwitting grab at a necklace) can be immediately penalized two points if the emcee of the bout deems the effect of the violation to have been appreciable, but sufficiently lacking in specific intent. A formal protest need not be lodged before the emcee can penalize a poet or team in this way, however, the decision of the emcee can be appealed after the bout. Teams or individuals whose use of props in a poem appears to be more calculating and the result of a specific intent to enhance, illustrate, underscore, or otherwise augment the words of the poem will be given a retroactive score for the poem equal to two points less than the lowest scoring poem in that bout. This deduction, which can only be applied after a formal protest has been lodged against the offending team, will not be made by the emcee, but by a special committee assembled for this purpose.
  4. No musical instruments or pre-recorded music.
  5. No costumes. The protest committee may apply a two point deduction for violation of the costume rule.


It is acceptable for a poet to incorporate, imitate, or otherwise "signify on" the words, lyrics, or tune of someone else (commonly called "sampling") in his own work. If he is only riffing off another's words, he should expect only healthy controversy; if on the other hand, he is ripping off their words, he should expect scornful contumely.

The No Repeat Rule.

A poem may be only used once during the preliminary and semi-final rounds. It may be repeated in the Group Piece Championship and the Team Finals.

The Three-Minute Rule.

No performance should last longer than three minutes. The time begins when the performance begins, which may well be before the first utterance is made. A poet is certainly allowed several full seconds to adjust the microphone and get settled & ready, but as soon as s/he makes a connection with the audience ("Hey look, she's been standing there for 10 seconds and hasn't even moved"), the timekeeper can start the clock. The poet does not have an unlimited amount of "mime time." Poets with ambiguous beginnings and endings to their performances should seek out the timekeeper at each venue to settle on a starting & ending time. After three minutes, there is a 10-second grace period (up to and including 3:10:00). Starting at 3:10:01, a penalty is automatically deducted from each poet's overall score according to the following schedule:

3:10 and under no penalty
3:10:001 - 3:20 -0.5
3:20:001 - 3:30 -1.0
3:30:001 - 3:40 -1.5
3:40:001 - 3:50 -2.0
and so on [-0.5 for every 10 seconds over 3:10]

(An additional 10 seconds is permitted in the finals without penalty.)

The announcement of the time penalty and its consequent deduction will be made by the emcee or scorekeeper after all the judges have reported their scores. The judges should not even be told that a poet went overtime until it is too late for them to adjust their scores.

Maximum Time Limit.

After four minutes, only the emcee must stop a poet from continuing to perform.

Influencing the crowd before the bout begins.

Poets are allowed to talk casually with anyone in the crowd before the bout begins (except the judges, if they have already been chosen). They are not, however, allowed to give anything to the audience or have anyone do this for them. Furthermore, inside the venue (in the presence or within earshot of the audience) they must not act in any way that would make more of an impression than another competitor waiting for the competition to begin. Poets who violate this rule will be given one warning by the emcee, bout manager, or house manager. Further violation will result in a two-point penalty for that poet’s score (or his team).


Each bout will have 4 rotations. In each rotation, each team will perform once. Every rotation must represent the work of a different primary author. Refer to Section VI (Definitions) for further clarification on primary authorship. No individual poet may perform solo more than once in a bout, except in the case of a tiebreaker. Teams violating this rule will receive a score of zero for the offending rotation.