principals of Lucid
Rabbit and Annie
MacNaughton, staged the first sanctioned Poetry Bout—entitled
the World Heavyweight Championship™—at the inaugural
Taos Poetry Circus in August of 1982.
had read in Ed and Jennifer Dorn’s Rolling Stock about
poetry fights happening in a Chicago bar. Chicago poet and writer
Al Simmons, a student of Ted Berrigan’s and Ed Dorn’s,
and bartender at the Oxford Pub, had devised a way of settling
loud-mouthed spats between poets. He organized the first
official Poetry Bout between Jerome Salla and Jimmy Desmond
on a boxing match, it was held in someone’s loft. Later
a rematch staged at Tut’s bar attracted an audience of
hundreds. The Stone Wind City Poets continued to stage occasional
Poetry Bouts at the Déjà Vu Club and Get Me High
bars in North side Chicago (influencing Marc Smith to develop
poetry slams at that venue five or so years later).
Peter Rabbit Bout announcer.
contacted Simmons and invited him to help with the World Heavyweight
Championship Poetry Bout. Simmons sent Terry Jacobus, also a
student of Berrigan’s and Dorn’s, to challenge the
inimitable Gregory Corso, “Captain Poetry” himself,
whom Rabbit had invited from Naropa’s Kerouac School of
Disembodied Poetics in Boulder.
would be 10 rounds, each poet reading one poem per round. There
was no prize other than an original trophy, cast at Shidoni
Fees paid to the poets would be the same for each. The goal
was to pay the poets—that they be paid at all being innovative
at the time, and more so the attempt to pay them reasonable
performance fees. The producers weren’t so much invested
in who won or lost as they were in a quality reading series:
the “winner” would be invited back the following
year to defend the Title.
[photo of Jacobus in Bout 1982]
a hundred paying customers showed up that night and most had
come to hear Allen Ginsberg, who performed with his partner
Peter Orlovsky on the first half of the bill. After a bizarre,
calamity-filled five-round performance in the first-ever iteration
of the event, Jacobus was summarily declared the World Heavyweight
Mayor Fred Peralta
awards "The Max" trophy to the Shermanator,
2000 World Heavyweight Champion Poet!
participants in all twenty WHC Poetry Bouts were all seasoned
professional poets, the cream of late twentieth century poetry—of
all races, backgrounds and ages. And the WHCPB became the “Main
Event” of the annual Taos Poetry Circus throughout the
remainder of its 22-year existence.
as an audience-development ploy, the WHCPB provoked a renewed
national interest in poetry as it grew throughout the 1980s
to become a premier American literary event. The “Main
Event” helped to spark the later so-called spoken word
movement. This innovative performance event received mentioned
in the textbook Communications
which featured the WHCPB in a chapter on “Poetic Interpretation.”
And there have been spin-offs, of which the famous poetry slam
form of amateur competition is one. Another is Tag Team Poetry,
modeled on pro wrestling teams. www.minorheron.org
Judges before the Bout!
that first sanctioned Poetry Bout in 1982 there have been a
few tweaks to the formula. In 1988, the 7th Round was tweaked
with what is now the “free form rule,” allowing
poets to add music or other accompaniment to their poems for
that Round. In 1989, the “Waldman rule” was created,
capping delivery time for a poem at five minutes. Otherwise
the concept remains the same: ten rounds, twenty poems, a ring,
a ring girl, a bell, a timekeeper, a referee, two excellent
poets, and a fine poetry reading.
Regulations for the Conduct of Poetry Bouts
of Bout Poets