Everyone is welcome on the Berkeley Slam stage. You don’t need to be a seasoned poet to compete. We welcome singers, rappers, comedians, and all other word artists who are bringing original work! All we ask is that you respect the mic and your fellow artists. Keep it to three minutes, keep it honest, keep it original, and we can all be friends!
The slam takes place every Wednesday, rain or shine, except on major holidays and on the rare occasion St. Patrick’s Day lands on a Wednesday. (Apparently, drunken people who like to think they’re Irish don’t like to hear poetry in an Irish pub on that day. Who knew?). On most nights, our cover is $7.
We take ten poets in each slam. If you are there at 7:30 p.m. (and we mean sharp-like) for signup, you’re more likely to make the slam list. Sign up closes at 8:05 p.m., and the show gets rolling at 8:15 p.m. If you don’t make the list one week, come back and try again!
Our draw is random, so if you feel like you’ve been unjustly held back by fate after trying to get on the list for a few weeks, talk to us. We might be able to work something out (but we are not going to do so if you decide to be a dick, so please be nice; honey and flies, friends).
Theme and Cover Slams
Sometimes, we have theme slams. That means all original work needs to be on that theme or you’re probably not reading. Claiming ignorance of the theme does not mean you will get on stage. It’s our game, you gotta play by our rules. Theme slams are hella fun, folks! How often do you get a chance to read poems with a sock puppet on your hand, to intentionally read bad poetry to get the lowest score, and to read erotic poetry to score in other ways?
We also have cover slams. That means you can read something that someone else wrote, no fuss, no worry. You know what makes that more fun? Preparing in advance. Our rules about costumes and props disappear on these nights, so you can do it up! The folks who win these shows get their shit memorized and choreographed beforehand — we can show you a spreadsheet to prove it.
The Rules (for most shows)
One original poem per round, under 3 minutes, 10 seconds. Time begins at first utterance, but if you’re being a total clown and wasting our time, we’ll start the clock early.
Poets lose 0.1 points per second over time and will be played off stage by the band or DJ if they are still reading after 4 minutes. If poets refuse to leave the stage after we begin playing them off, we’ll get the bartender to chase them off. He is bigger and meaner than you.
This is a Free Speech zone, so have your say. However, we do reserve the right to remove a poet from stage if he or she is dangerously intoxicated or performing hate speech. Also, we won’t protect you from irate audience members unless they get violent (and even then, we ain’t putting our faces in front of their fists to protect your face; we’ll call the cops and wait for them to clean up the mess).
Singing and rapping are allowed, but the use of musical accompaniment, costumes (things you wear to influence the audience beyond your poem itself), props (things you use to influence the audience beyond your poem itself), or nudity will result in disqualification. Nudity will probably get you booted from the bar; our bartender doesn’t cotton to such hijinks, and you do not want to see a large bald man vaulting the bar to chase you out the door.
For most slams, group pieces are allowed, but all poets in the group must perform in both rounds.
3. Judging and Scoring
Five judges are picked from the audience. Poems are judged on a 10-point scale down to a tenth of a point. High and low scores are dropped, and the middle three scores are added. The bonus point for Word of the Day may be earned in the first round only and only if the word is used in the body of the poem (not the title or the last word in the piece).
Keep in mind that judges can be opinionated assholes or just plain drunk. They may decide they don’t like the look of you. If you can’t handle being judged by people who aren’t as pretty, as smart, or as talented as you are, grow a thicker skin or work on your indifference and come back when you can handle the truth. Always remember: The point is not the points. The point is the poetry.
Open slams have two rounds. Ten poets read in the first round. For most shows, the five poets with the highest scores will advance to the second round. Scores are cumulative across all rounds.
There is a break between the first and second rounds. Visit the bar, hit the potty, get some eats, smoke. . . something. All we ask is that anyone outside please use their inside voices; the bar’s in a residential area, kids!
If you leave during the break, you are ripping yourself off! The features don’t perform until after the break.
1st place: $50, 4 points in standings
2nd place: $30, 3 points in the standings
3rd place: $20, 2 points in the standings
4th and 5th place: 1 point in the standings.
Poets do not earn points during theme slams or when they perform group pieces.
6. No Repeat Rule
Poets who win a qualifying slam cannot repeat the pieces they used in competition until Semifinals / Finals. Theme slams are exempt from this rule.
7. Have Fun!
The more you participate in the slam, the more you’ll get from it! Good-natured heckling from the audience is encouraged, but intimidation and cruelty are not welcome. It takes a lot of nerve to get up on stage, so please support all of the performers!
Audience: The more energy you give the poets, the more energy you get back. Performers feed off your love and adoration (or applause and screaming). You are guaranteed to get more value for your buck if you participate in the show, clap loudly, laugh, cry, scream occasionally, and respond to lines you think are hot!
Poets: You’re in a bar. People talk in bars. Some people talk very loudly and don’t care about your feelings. Your job is to get the audience to pay attention to you. It’s your three minutes to be the star of the show, the belle of the ball, the starlet in the sex video! Make it count!
Everyone: Please support the features and support the bar! Our features come in from all over the world. Have you seen the price of plane tickets these days?! The slam ain’t paying for travel! We pay our rent to the bar by buying beer and food. Please take the time to buy at least one drink (they have nonalcoholic beverages, too), and the food is banging. (Chocolate chip and red curry cookies? Hell, yeah, we have the munchies!) Also, did you know that booze makes poetry sound better? It’s a scientific fact!