While I certainly haven’t seen it all, I’ve seen a lot. So here, with the usual caveats: a reductive but well-meant description of some of the common types of open mic nights, with links even.
Because slams are largely dominated by poets in their 20s, common themes include identity, social outrage, and relationships. Performances are typically forceful and poets perform from memory. Even if they don’t strictly follow official slam rules or protocol, music isn’t usually involved.
You might fit well at a slam if you write long (3 minute) poems about what it’s like to be you, if you love a good rant, or if your poems are about your mother, brother, girlfriend, favorite teacher, or god(s).
Watch some slam style in action at Button Poetry or by searching YouTube for clips from HBO’s Def Poetry Jam.
A literary open mic (like Durham’s Lit101, which I hit this week) tends to attract a wider range of ages and themes. They’re often open to short fiction and other genres (comedy, scripts, essay) but also don’t usually actively encourage musicians.
If you’re more comfortable reading from page or device, if your work is shorter form or nuanced, if your style is less performance oriented, this could be your thing.
For an easy compare-and-contrast between slam and literary, check out videos from NYC’s Page Meets Stage.
The difference between spoken word and slam is a bit of a stumper. All I would add to Wikipedia’s usual handy starting point would be my anecdotal observation that spoken word is less rant-y than slam and more lively than literary.
My favorite open mic at Chicago’s Green Mill features a house band who can improvise based solely on loose clues about mood and scene, giving poets a chance to be part of something larger, fleeting, and occasionally magical.
Music Open Mic
Obviously meant mostly for musicians, some predominantly music open mics accept (or even welcome) poets for a little variety. If the rules aren’t published, it’s best to ask before taking the mic. Some venues and some organizers just aren’t that into us.
- The above is based on my own experience. N = 1.
- Open mics are conceived by artists and populated by artists, who are notoriously allergic to being pigeonholed.
- Open mics are hyper-local. Every hometown, every tribe, is unique.
- If I got 20 comments on this blog with a litany of all I don’t know, I’d be the opposite of surprised. Go ahead, delight me with your examples of variation or blend or the wholly other…