Posts Tagged ‘Rewriting the Rulebook’

This is the latest in the Rewriting the Rulebook project.


We have gone through all of the existing tournament rules as written, but there are other rules, incorporated through precedent and/or tradition that also affect the way the tournament is run.


Today I want to start off my talking about something that I know has a wide range of opinions and feelings associated with it.


The Wild Card team / Last Chance Slam. (It is named at the whims of the festival organizers at times.)


First, let me explain what I am talking about.


A slam is held on the first night of the festival where the top 4 (or 5) poets from the slam form a new team and it is entered alongside the other teams sent from individual slam scenes.


This has taken a variety of forms over the years.


The first time this was done was in 2008. There was an odd number of teams (11, I think) and an extra team was needed to even that up. A slam was held that was mostly filled with the alts from the various teams entered.


In 2009 it was held again. This time there were a number of top poets who had previously decided to not be on teams (with one notable exception, which I am not going into here), who decided to go out for the team. They made it to the Finals that year.


In 2010 there were 15 teams registered so a slam was held to create that team. This time there were so many people who wanted in, we held an advance lottery give spots in the event. (That has not been needed since.)
In 2012 there was a last minute slam created when one team that was expected to arrive did not. In 2015 there was a slam scheduled the day before most teams arrived, to make up the even number.

Some people love the Wild Card idea. Some people don’t.


Here is the current rules, previously unwritten: When all teams have registered, if there will be an odd number of teams a Last Chance Slam will be held to create a Wild Card team. Once formed, that team will be treated like any other team in the festival, with one exception. Any poems performed during the Last Chance Slam cannot be performed during the main competition that year.

That last rule was waived this year because nobody told the competitors that before they slammed.


Evening up the teams matters a lot. Scheduling an even with an odd number of teams means that at some point there needs to be prelim bouts that are a different size that others. That doesn’t create fair competition. The Wild Card team fixes that.

As I said earlier, some people love the Wild Card concept and think that we should include it every year. (There are various ideas about how to deal with the ‘odd number’ problem if the Wild Card team would CREATE an odd number.)

I am not one of those people.


I think of the Wild Card team as a fix to a problem, but not something that is desirable. I have always thought that the Wild Card team is a little unfair and quite a bit insulting to the poets on teams who had to work incredibly hard to get to where they are.

Let’s look at a ‘standard’ slam. At CapSlam, a poet has to have slammed at least 3 times during the season to qualify for our semi-finals. Then they need to compete against 7 other poets for the right to go to the finals. If they make it to the finals they compete against 7 other poets for the right to represent CapSlam at CFSW.

Once on the team those pets work together all summer, raising money and working on their poems as a team. This is five months of dedication before they have the opportunity to share their work with the National Community. This is a year of supporting the community they are representing. Coming out to shows and giving back to the community that is sponsoring them.

Or they can sign up for a Last Chance Slam, finish in the top 4 or 5 once, and skip the whole process.

That doesn’t sit well with me.

I remember IzREAL saying that we would see how many people still like the Wild Card idea if they win a championship. Some people still would, I am sure.

It does not sit well with me. At all.

So, my proposal is to take the current unwritten rule and put it in the actual rules, but otherwise don’t change it.

I know there will be other opinions about this one, so have at it. 🙂

This is the latest installment in the Rewriting the Rulebook Project.


There isn’t much to discuss here as we wrap up the remaining rules as written.  (Though there is some clean up needed, certainly.)

Please note that the two year moratorium on repeating poems was passed at an AGM, so would be tough to change at this point. (I mean, it could be changed, but not until next year.)

If you want to talk about it, please feel free!

o) Slam hosts will conduct themselves as neutrally as possible at all times during bouts.

p) Any disagreements, complaints or protests from a bout will be handled by the Slammaster. (The Slammaster may choose to strike a grievance committee at their discretion.)


  1. The National Slammaster will also enforce the following rules regarding the use of poetry from previous national team slam championship competitions:

a) No artist may perform a poem in the current competition that they used in previous national team slam championship competitions from the preceding two years at CFSW. This includes preliminary bouts, Semi-Finals and Finals but not Last Chance Slams, sacrificial poems, Underground Slams or any other side events. (Poems from Last Chance Slams are not allowed as part of the competition in the same year they are performed.)

b) Any disagreements, complaints or protests arising from the enforcement of these provisions will be handled by the Slammaster.

This brings us to the end of the current, written rules. I will be still making more posts as we go into the unwritten rules portion of the show.

Next up, I will open up discussion on the Wild Card / Last Chance team concept. It is an area that has a wide variety of opinions so it needs a good spot to discuss them.

What other rules topics that aren’t otherwise covered could use a section?

This is the latest post in the Rewriting the Rulebook project.

We have a bunch of sections here which are not exactly controversial.

j) Under no circumstances may less than four eligible slam team members perform, either solo or as part of a team piece. If this occurs, the team will be penalized with a 30.0 point deduction from their final team score for the bout in question.

I think I will actually drop this section. It isn’t possible to break this rule without ALREADY breaking the previous rules. It is redundant.

k) At the end of each preliminary bout, teams will receive an overall final score by adding together the scores of their four performances in the bout. The team will then be ranked according to relative placement. The top team in the bout will receive a ranking of 1, second place a 2, and so on.

Nothing exciting here.

l) Each team will participate in two preliminary bouts. At the conclusion of the preliminary round, their rankings from the two bouts will be added together. The eight teams with the lowest combined ranking scores will move on to the semifinal round.

This is also nothing new. The question is, how to we determine ties?

m) Ties in combined rankings are possible and are broken in the following order:

  1. Highest ‘Strength of Schedule’, defined as the combined placement points of all six team faced by the team.
  2. Highest placement (i.e. a team with rankings of 1 and 3 finishes ahead of a team with rankings of 2 and 2);
  3. Overall total score (determined by adding the two overall final scores from both preliminary bouts together);
  4. Highest individual scores.


There it is. Clear as day.


I’ll start by saying that I am a HUGE fan of ‘Strength of Schedule’ as a tie breaker. I have been lobbying for it since at least 2009. It has been in place since 2013 for CFSW. It ensures that the team that actually performs the best, against the toughest competition, is who moves on.

Let me explain it using an example.

Team A has a combined placement score of 4. They came 2nd in both of their bouts. Team B has a combined placement score of 4. They got a 1st and a 3rd.

Under the old system, Team B would have moved on.

But let’s look at the competition each team faced. Team A faced 3 teams who would their other bouts and 3 teams who placed 2nd in their other bouts. Those 6 teams, when all of THEIR placements are added together, have a score of 25.

Team B faced 3 teams who came 3rd in their other bouts. They also faced 3 teams who came 4th in their other bouts. Those 6 teams, when all of THEIR placements are added together, have a score of 37.

It is clear that Team A faced much stiffer competition, therefore they win the tiebreaker.

This year it didn’t come up as it turned out that the top 8 teams had a combined score of 2 or 3, but ONLY the top 8 teams had a score of 2 or 3. There was no tie that needed breaking.

That is rare. This IS the first year where you HAD to win a bout to have any chance to move on, by the way.

n) There will be two semi-final bouts with four teams each. The teams that finish first and second in each semi-final bout move on to the finals.

Section n is also not controversial but…

There will also be a new section added to clarify what happens when there is a tie for 2nd during the semi-finals. This has always BEEN the rule (I can recall talking about in 2010, the first time there WAS a semi-final.

If there is a tie for 2nd place at the end of a semi-final, the tie will be broken by the highest INDIVIDUAL score in the bout from the teams that are tied.

This is the first year it happened, but the rule was already in place, just unwritten.

HOWEVER, there is NO rule in place for a tie for the win at finals

I have been the one who says, ‘what’s wrong with a tie? Let both teams win’, but that is an unpopular choice. Also, there won’t be enough trophies. 🙂

Here is my suggestion:


If there is a tie for FIRST place at the FINALS, it goes to a sudden death round. Each tied team can send up any team member(s) they want, doing any poem they want (even if they already performed it during the festival or previous festivals), with the exception of any of the four poems performed by the team IN the finals.

Judges will not score the poems. Instead they will watch both and then choose which they thought was better. That team will win the event.


So, what do you think about how we decide ties?

This is the latest edition of Rewriting the Rulebook!

We have a section that already WAS rewritten last year. We’ll get to that, but first… Sections 3g and 3h really have nothing to comment on. I include them only for completeness.

g) Scores for each performance will be given by five judges randomly selected before the bout begins. All scores are on a scale from 0.0 to 10.0, in increments of tenths. The poet’s highest and lowest scores are dropped and the three middle scores added together for a final score out of 30.0.

h) If a judge gives a score outside the range or in increments of hundredths or greater, the score will be rounded down to the nearest tenth or, in the case of a negative score, rounded up to zero.

Then we get to Section 3i.

This was changed last year when there was a question about whether dancing a poem counted as performing a poem. It was a team piece where the author of the poem danced while a teammate recited the poem. It was ruled to be legal at the time and afterwards we decided that the rule needed to be clearer. It was decided that people WANTED it to be legal, so we added the ‘in any way they see fit’ clause, to ensure that the word ‘perform’ stayed as broad as possible.

I’m still not sure I agree with that, but this reflects the desires of the community.

i) Competitors may perform (in any way they see fit) a solo piece when called to the stage, or they may choose a team piece. Any team piece performed in a certain poet’s slot must either be primarily written by the artist in question, or the team piece must be cooperatively written by artists in the piece, including the artist in question. The poet assigned to a certain slot must be an integral part of the performance.

I want to point out something. As clearly laid out in the rules, the poets whose ‘slot’ it is needs to be ‘an integral part’ of the performance. Somehow this has been altered in people’s minds to say that they have to have the biggest part in a team piece, or at least equal.

The rule never said that. It said they need to be ‘an integral’ part.

On finals night I heard a complaint that a certain team piece was in a poet’s spot and that she didn’t do her fair share on stage. She didn’t do ‘an equal part’. Well, as I point out here, that has never actually been the rule. Did she do ‘an integral part’ of the performance? Absolutely.

Back in 2010 we had a team piece on stage that DID break this rule. The poet who was called up said one word on stage (and did nothing else that could make up for that, like the dancing example above). This IS a violation.

Now, let’s talk about this rule and what it should be.

First off, I am actually not suggesting any further changes here, though I am open to it.

As said, I am not really in agreement with the idea that dancing counts as ‘performing’ a poem. Still, as said all along, I am trying to find a set of rules that serves the community, and the community wanted it to be legal, so it is.

As far as the rest of the rule goes, the ‘primary pen’ part is pretty much built on the honour system. That is the rule. Honour it. If you don’t, how can anyone prove it? (We had a case a few years ago where it sure LOOKED like a violation, but what we didn’t know is that the poet who had been touring, performing a poem, had CO-WRITTEN it with a teammate, but hadn’t told anyone. So when they put it up in HER spot, it was legal.

Honour system.

Then we get to the ‘integral’ part. Integral according to whom? That would have to be the slam/bout manager, and I guarantee that we would err on the side of the poets.

The question is, do you want to change that? And if so, how? The primary pen must say at least as many words as anyone else? They must be speaking for a longer time period than anyone else?

I for one don’t want a slam decided because we broke out the videotape (which often, doesn’t even exist) to calculate it.

I think the rule should stand as written.


This is the latest entry in the Rewriting the Rulebook project.

Now we are getting into some juicy stuff. This is the stuff that got this conversation started in the first place.

f) No props, music, or costumes are allowed in the competition. Poets may read from sheets of paper, non-commercial notebooks, or handheld digital devices (smartphones etc.) but not from published materials of any kind (i.e. pamphlets, books, chapbooks, etc.).

First off, notice anything missing?

There is no mention of ‘nudity’. That doesn’t make it legal. I will be adding it back in.

I am going to go out of order here. First off – music. Agreed. It is not allowed. There is an ‘unwritten rule’ that says you can make music with your body. I think we can fix that just by changing ‘music’ to ‘musical accompaniment’.

Let me jump to the large final clause about what you are allowed to read from. I want to replace that whole section with “The poet is allowed to bring up any printed or electronic copy of the poem to read from.”

I first heard of this rule out of nowhere in 2010 (out of nowhere likely meaning that someone had read the NPS rules).

This rule is nonsense. It exists to eliminate the perception that a poet is somehow more accomplished than another because they have something published.

This is archaic thinking. I have two full length books. Guess what it took for me to get them. Just under $9 each. (Well, if I only bought one copy it would be higher…)

That’s it. I had to prove nothing about my ability as a writer. I just needed a credit card number.

Chapbooks are even worse. Guess what it cost me to produce a FULL RUN of the 2015 CapSlam team chapbooks? I think it was $6.

Having a book does not make you any more ‘accomplished’ than any other poet. It is a nitpicky rule that should just be tossed out.

(I would rather ban electronic devices than books… but I don’t want to ban those either.)


Next… let’s talk about costumes.

What is a costume?

The ‘unwritten rules’ have called a costume anything that you wear just for the stage that you wouldn’t wear walking down the street.

Interesting but nonsensical.

Who are you or I to say what another person would or wouldn’t wear walking down the street?

A couple of years ago at the festival, I saw a poet walking around with fairy wings on her back. She was not ‘in costume’. She was just wearing them.

If she had worn them on stage, I guarantee that there would have been complaints.

I heard two ‘costume’ complaints at this year’s festival. (Keep in mind, I WASN’T the Slam Master this year, but I am still around, and we talk.)

The first was in a prelim bout where two poets performed a ‘mirror’ poem. They faced each other and spoke as if each were a reflection of the other. They wore matching t-shirts.

Were they dressed specifically for the competition? No question. But since those outfits were clothes that they would ‘wear on the street’, they passed the test.

The second was when a poet performed a poem full of sports metaphors and was wearing a football sweatshirt.

Was he dressed specifically for the competition? Probably. But since the outfit was clothes he would ‘wear on the street’, it passed the test.

Let me add a pair of situations that nobody complained about, but were every bit as ‘costumy’.

On the finals stage both of the last two years, a team got on stage wearing all matching black clothes. Is this a violation of the costume rule?



Because the costume rule is meaningless.

How many people do you think choose their clothes based on the fact that they are performing that night?

Over half, certainly. I saw a poet in a dress and the next day she was wearing a sweatshirt and jeans… doesn’t that mean she was wearing a costume to perform?

Does that sound ridiculous?

Yes. Because it is. All of it.

It is time to ditch the ‘no costume’ rule.

(Another thought… maybe we should add to the judges spiel that they are supposed to judge the poem and performance, but not the appearance of the poet…)


The PROP rules.

This rule needs to stick around, but I think it needs work.

The ‘unwritten’ part is that the poet can use anything that everyone has access to, but cannot make any reference to anything that only THEY have, like the clothes they are wearing…. BUT there is a waiver for parts of their body… things they cannot ‘take off’.

This seems simple, but the application of it is anything but.

Let’s start with the ‘access’ rule. I would drop this altogether. It is confusing to people. It is MEANT to give a waiver for the mic and mic stand. Let’s just say that. As (un)written, it is taken to mean poets can go into the audience, grab a chair, stuff from the merch table… whatever. I don’t think that is what we want so instead change is to ‘poets can use the mic and mic stand’, but nothing else they can pick up.’

Then there is the clothes thing. Let me be very clear that the rule as enforced was the rule that was announced at the start of the festival.

But I don’t like it.

There was also a fairly high profile incident with a women referring to her hijab and touching it at a big slam, and she was penalized. This opened up the argument about what is ‘part of someone’s body’.

I think that is an argument that shows we have gotten away from the point of the rule.

Do I want to get rid of this rule? No. In fact, getting rid of this rule AND getting rid of the costume rule would turn the event into a whole different thing.

What I want to get rid of is the idea that referring to your clothing in a GENERIC way is an issue.

We all wear clothes on stage. In fact, due to the no nudity rule, we HAVE to.

I would like to change the rule immediately so that clothes only become props if the poet refers to SPECIFIC clothing items.

I am sitting wearing a shirt with my name above my left pocket.

If I were touch my shirt and say “I would give the shirt off my back to ensure that…”

No penalty.

If I were to touch my shirt and say “Like my name emblazoned across my chest I know…”


“These boots” no penalty

“These red lace-up work boots” penalty

“My dress” no penalty

“My blue striped dress that I got for a great deal from Value Village” penalty

And to go to the controversial one…

Touch your hijab and say “My hijab” no penalty

Run your finger along the beaded fringe on a head scarf and say “These beads mark the times that…” penalty

Make sense?

Anyway… that’s my opinion. What is yours?

The latest update to the Rewriting the Rulebook project!

Follow along! Have your say! Join the conversation!

Anyone who wonders why I am not posting this on the SpoCan FB group, it is because for some reason there are a bunch of us (including me), who can’t access that group. We have a ‘ticket’ open with Facebook to figure out what the problem is. When it is fixed, I will post there as well.

e) Poems can be performed in any style and must be no longer than three minutes in duration. Each performer receives a 10-second grace period beyond three minutes. Every 10 seconds thereafter (or portion of 10 seconds thereafter) will be penalized with a 0.5 point deduction.

This is a section I desperately want to rewrite.

Start with the first line. The rules should be instructions on how to compete and run a slam. There is no reason to say that poems can be ‘performed in any style’. There is nothing in the rules to imply otherwise. It is out of place in this section which is ostensibly about the time limit.

Then there is the time limit…

I have no desire to change the time allowed (except in the smallest way). It is well established and consistent with the way slams are run across the country.


I am going to put this in caps because it makes my logical brain spin…


There never has been a grace period. This is a meaningless addition to the slam spiel that actually adds nothing to the competition. It makes the slam rules clunky AND it has created an environment where poets are AIMING to be under 3:10. A team repping my show once missed advancing to Finals due to going over by less than half a second. That seems harsh. It isn’t, because they weren’t over by less than a half second. They were over by 10.5 seconds. The time limit is 3 minutes. (In fact, they were over by 20.5 seconds because the ‘big room’ adjustment was in effect. More on that later.)

The rule SHOULD read: There is a 3 minute time limit. If the poet goes over 3 minutes they will receive a .5 penalty for every 10 seconds they go over.

So, if they go 3:03, how many allotments of 10 seconds did they go over? None. No penalty. If they go 3:11, how many allotments of 10 seconds did they go over? One.


No grace period!

Except when there is. 🙂

Here we get to one of those ‘unwritten rules’ of slam. Over the past few years, CFSW has adopted one of those NPS rules were they give an extra 10 seconds if the room is large enough. A bigger room sometimes slows poets down due to the crowd reaction interfering.

When this first came up, I was opposed to it. I figure that the poets should be responsible for ensuring that their poems come in under time.

I have adjusted my thinking over the last couple of years. Having the championship decided due to technicalities is something nobody wants. A bunch of time penalties at the finals puts a real downer on the whole event.

AND I have watched poets who never get a time penalty, just go a BIT slower due to the SUCCESS of their poem in a room full of 500 people.

It is always left to the discretion of the Slam Master AT the event (though teams are told before the bout starts).

It is important that it only be called at the event because if you give advance notice, poets will start planning for the extra time and completely eliminate the reason it was instituted.

When this option is called, the poets NOW have a 10 second grace period. AFTER that 10 second grace period, poets are given a .5 penalty for every 10 seconds they go over, so the first penalty kicks in when they reach 3:20.

In practical terms, this new writing of the rule changes one tiny thing. Under the old rules, penalties were not given until the stopwatch reached 3:10.1 (or even 3:10.01 if the stopwatch goes down to that level of granularity).

Under the revised rules the penalty starts at 3:10

Incredibly minor change that will improve ALL slams. (Seriously. Stop announcing that poets have 3:10. It sounds so random.)

The next instalment in the Rewriting the Rulebook project.

c) A designated team representative will provide information to the
Slammaster before the bout begins denoting the names and corresponding letters for each of the four or five members on the team.

I included two points for this section because where could there be discussion about this one?

Purely logistical.

d) Each bout will have a sacrificial poet (also known as a calibration poet), selected by the Slammaster or their delegate, to calibrate the judges. The sacrificial poet will perform before the official competition begins, and will receive scores from the judges as if they are a part of the competition.

Everyone knows about sac poets, but there is an unwritten policy about them as well. One that has been broken over and over… and one that I think it is okay to break.

The unwritten policy always has been that the Slam Master will not choose a Sac Poet who has any sort of affiliation with any of the teams in the bout. That sometimes is broken due to circumstance. At the recent CFSW, Brad Morden ended up as Sac Poet in a bout that CapSlam was in. Brad is the former Director of the Capital Poetry Collective – the organizers of CapSlam.

Nobody seemed to care.

I think the REAL unwritten rule is that the Sac Poet should not be given any sort of introduction. Nobody will be told where they are from so the judges will not know of any connection. Only the poets will, and that doesn’t really affect anything.

So, I would say it is PREFERABLE that there be no connection between the sac poet and any of the teams, but as long as there is no ACTIVE, IN-BOUT connection (like the Sac is coaching a team or something), it is not a big deal.