An immediately-perplexing but distinctly-observable phenomenon manifesting at poetry slam
s from here to Kalamazoo. In short, here's the poop: slam poetry
, as we all know, is essentially performance poetry
with diving score
s. Over the course of a night's quasi-literary competition
, a mysterious force compels scores given later in the night to be higher than they might have been had the same poem occurred earlier in the evening - "creep
"ing up, you see, like a bunchy underwear elastic with a mind of its own.
Poetry slams generally begin with a qualifying round
- so round one might feature a poem each from 15 poets, only the top 5 of whom might proceed to round two. What this means is that the trend is to begin with one's strongest poem (that is, the work from one's repertoire anticipated to garner the highest average score) so as to ensure placement
in the later rounds. Works shared in subsequent rounds then are further from the intitial guaranteed crowd-pleaser
s - works perhaps still rough around the edges, more controversial or contingent on more specialized familiarity with certain topics, experiences or references. So why, then, do those later-performed edgier, riskier and unpredictably-scoring works tend to get ranked higher?
Why this isn't so odd after all:
Think about where poetry slam events tend to take place - cafés, clubs yes, but primarily: bar
s. In fact, one may recall that Marc Smith
first introduced the scoring
of performed poems in an attempt to merely reduce the drunken
heckling at Chicago's Green Mill Lounge
. The result of this common setting is that by the end of a not-unusual three hours of scoring, the judge
s have gotten quite a few drinks into them and, providing they're not mean drunk
s, the intoxication has softened them up a bit and made them easier to please. In fact, many poets save passionate but flawed poems for the last round, aware that blunt emotional button-pushing may be their only change to keep the addled judges' attentions. Use your brilliant, clever and subtle poem at the beginning to wow them - but know that by the end of the night, only the straightforward and direct prosaic appeal to the heartstrings is going to stick in the head of the boozy and tired score-givers, in for the long haul.
In short, if your epic work of genius only scores a 6.3 while some following hack's wannabe alt-rock lyrics ring up an average of 8.7, don't despair - often what is being measured here is not so much literary excellence as proximity to happy hour. But please, don't let this stop you from getting up on the stage 8)