The following rules are in accordance with those observed at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word and printed in the American National Poetry Slam Rule Book from Poetry Slam Incorporated. They apply to all Throw Poetry Collective slams, unless otherwise indicated. Rules 1-5 and 7-12 have been exactly reproduced here from the Rule Book. Rules 2, 6 and 13 have been modified to apply to the local slam season and playoff round.
1. Poems can be on any subject and in any style.
2. Each poet must perform work that s/he has created, and perform solo.
3. No props. A prop is defined an object or article of clothing introduced into a performance with the effect of enhancing, illustrating, underscoring, or otherwise augmenting the words of the poem. 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.
4. No musical instruments or pre-recorded music.
5. No costumes.
6. a) No poem used in competition during a regular monthly slam shall be used in the first round of any subsequent regular slam during the same season. Poems that have been slammed previously are permitted in the second round.
6. b) No poem used in the semi-finals of the playoff round can be performed again in the finals. However, any poem used in competition during the regular season can be performed in competition during the playoff round, as long as it has not been performed during a playoff round in any previous year.
7. Sampling: 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.
8. 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 & 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 3:10.01 – 3:20 -0.5 3:20.01 – 3:30 -1.0 3:30.01 – 3:40 -1.5 3:40.01 – 3:50 -2.0 and so on [-0.5 for every 10 seconds over 3:10] 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 may stop a poet from continuing to perform.
9. Judging: All efforts shall be made to select five judges who will be fair. Once chosen, the judges will have a private, verbal crash course by the emcee or house manager on the do’s and don’ts of poetry slam judging (where they can ask questions).
10. Scoring: The judges will give each poem a score from 0 to 10, with 10 being the highest or “perfect” score. They will be encouraged to use one decimal place in order to preclude the likelihood of a tie. Each poem will get five scores. The high and the low scores will be dropped and the remaining three scores will be added together.
11. Emcees: The emcee will announce to the audience each poet’s name. She will also require that all judges hold their scores up at the same time and that no judge changes his score after it is up. She is expected to move the show along quickly and keep the audience engaged and interested in the competition. Since s/he must be completely impartial, any witty banter directed at individual poets, poems, teams, or scores is inappropriate. Even genuine enthusiasm has to be carefully directed. The safest thing to do is encourage the audience to express their own opinions.
12. Sacrificial Poet: Because no poet wants to go first in the slam, and because some judges, score keepers and time keepers need practice, each slam begins with a “sacrificial poet”. This poet performs a piece and is scored as if they were competing in the slam.
13. To qualify for semi-finals, poets must slam a minimum of two times within the regular slam season.