Ames Poetry Slam gives opportunity for expression

Jessica Sheldahl

A microphone stands in the center of the room surrounded by couches and covered in dim light streaming through stained glass windows. Throughout the night, poets from Iowa State and the Ames community step up to the microphone to express their literary works.

This is just a taste of Ames Poetry Slam, which happens the first Tuesday of every month at The Boheme, 2900 West St.

This month’s poetry slam will be held at 8 p.m. Tuesday, giving attendees a break from the grind during Dead Week.

“It’s a great opportunity to meet other people who are interested in what I call performance literature,” said Martin Teply, graduate student in English and host of Ames Poetry Slam since June 2005.

He said the event is not only about poetry. Other forms of literary work can also be expressed for feedback from an audience.

“It’s a venue where the audience feedback is going to be real and raw, whether it’s positive or negative,” Teply said. “We try to keep it fun and friendly. It’s a family of strangers.”

Readers can take the feedback they get from their performances and use it to improve on their work.

“It’s a fun event, and it allows them to showcase their own work and also get feedback, and it would potentially also allow them to be better writers,” said Christopher Jorgensen, computer support specialist at the Des Moines Register and webmaster for Ames Poetry Slam.

The event provides a unique opportunity not only for the readers in the competition but also for others who are interested in sharing their work in a less public manner.

Teply said a sign-up sheet is always placed at the door at 7:30 p.m. for those who want to read for the night. The limit is usually 13 poets for the competition, though more are welcome, and the open mic time provides an extra chance for the additional readers.

There are three rounds, so each reader needs to bring three original works. In the first and second rounds, all the signed-up poets read and are scored on a 10-point scale by five people or groups. The highest and lowest scores are thrown out and the rest are tallied and ranked. The third and final round consists of the top five readers for the night.

The winner of the contest receives an original 22-by-34 inch poster designed by Nick Van Berkum, graphic designer for Reiman Gardens and Ames Poetry Slam.

“Marty will give me a theme of whatever poetry slam it is and basically lets me do whatever I want,” Van Berkum said.

The poster can be viewed on the first floor of Ross Hall during the month previous to the poetry slam.

The second-place prize is something literary, of Teply’s choosing, such as a book, and third-place prize is a gag gift.

Teply said Ames Poetry Slam is intended to be a creative place.

“I like the fact that our poetry slam is a place to try out new things,” Teply said. “It’s not really competitive. We don’t boo the poets. We boo the judges.”

Not everyone who attends poetry slam has to read. Many people go simply to watch and hang out with friends.

“I think people don’t want to go because they feel like they need to read and write poetry, but I just watch and it’s fun,” VanBerkum said.

Teply said the poetry slam offers an entertaining break in the middle of the week.

“I think it’s really important that we have something like this in town,” Teply said. “It breaks up a pretty monotonous week.”

More information about the event as well as a gallery of previous posters can be found at

Information can also be found at