The Watering Hole Slam Rules


Round 1 = 20 poets
Round 2 = 12 poets (Cumulative Scoring)
Round 3 = 6 poets (Clean Slate Scoring)


  1. These rules are based on P.S.I. Rules.
  2. The Bout Draw is 30 minutes before the start of the slam. For example, if the slam starts at 7:00 p.m., the Bout Draw is at 6:30 p.m. If you are late to the bout draw, your spot may be given to a waitlisted poet who is present. If there are no waitlisted poets, the late poet can compete as the first performer in the slam.
  3. Waitlist information can be found on the Facebook event page.
  4. There are no ties for first place. Poets tied for first place must perform one more poem. A coin toss will determine order of performance. Judges will determine the winner by writing the name of the poem they vote for. Poets tied for positions other than first place share the prize money. For example, poets tied for second place will share the second and third place prizes.
  5. The first round is an elimination round. The second round reverses order for the remaining poets. Poets will draw for third round order.
  6. Each poem has a time limit of 3 minutes, with a grace period of 10 seconds. Once a poet makes connection with the audience, the time starts. Time-keeping is at the discretion of the timekeeper. Poets may be stopped at 4 minutes. The penalty is a .5 deduction for each interval of ten seconds over time.

    0:00 – 3:10 no deduction

    3:11 – 3:20 loses 0.5

    3:21 – 3:30 loses 1.0

    3:31 – 3:40 loses 1.5

    …and so on.

    So a poet who gets a 27.6 and goes 3:42 loses two points for a final score of 25.6.

  7. No props. No costumes. No musical instruments or pre-recorded music. The Bout Manager or MC will make final determinations if props, costumes, or music are in dispute. Check with that person in advance if you have questions.
  8. Any subject.
  9. Original work only.
  10. General P.S.I. Rules
  11. Inappropriate, unprofessional, or illegal behavior can result in immediate disqualification from the slam, dismissal from the slam venue, and ban from all TWH events and programs. Examples of inappropriate or unprofessional behavior include (but are not limited to) shouting at the Bout Manager or MC, disrupting the Bout, etc. Illegal behavior include any state or federal prohibitions.

A Note on Props and Costumes

(Many thanks to Kimberly Simms Gibbs from Wits End Poetry for this wording.)


“Generally, poets are allowed to use their given environment and the accouterments it offers microphones, mic stands, the stage itself, chairs on stage, a table or bar top, the aisle as long as these accouterments 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.”
  • “Poets who inadvertently use a prop (for example, a timely yet unwitting grab at a necklace) can be immediately penalized two points if the Bout Manager or MC of the bout deems the effect of the violation to have been appreciable, but sufficiently lacking in specific intent.”
  • “Individuals whose use of props in a poem appears to be more calculated 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.”
  • Reading from a book, paper, or cell phone counts as the use of a prop.

Deductions decisions will be made by the Bout Manager or MC.


Costumes include clothing that is worn or used in a way that is outside of the realm of normal poetry slam performance, clothing that can be deemed as a gimmick to enhance the poet’s score, clothing that is put on or taken off during the performance or clothing that is used to distract from another poet’s performance.


In order to protest, immediately, calmly, and respectfully speak directly to the Bout Manager or MC. The Bout Manager or MC will make a decision about the alleged violation in the moment. All decisions are final.

A formal protest need not be lodged before the Bout Manager or MC can penalize a poet for a violation. If you have questions about the decision of the Bout Manager or MC, please ask them about it immediately and respectfully. Decisions cannot be appealed after the bout.