Before Elliot Darrow performs his poem, “Red Shoes,” he unlaces his red canvas sneakers and goes on stage barefoot.

This isn’t poetic license.

No props are allowed.

In college slam poetry.

Poetry is art, but poetry contests are sport, bound by rules as exacting as any that govern collegiate competition—nine pages worth, split into alphabetical and numbered sections, prefaced with a line from the Roman poet Horace: “I have to submit to much in order to pacify the touchy tribe of poets.”

Section D, item 2 is a lengthy interlude on what constitutes the start of a performance. “First utterance does NOT include (i) speaking or making noise into a microphone in a manner intended to check the microphone; or (ii) bodily functions such as coughing, sneezing, throat clearing, etc.”

After removing his shoes before his recitation, Mr. Darrow gives a nod to the no-prop rule, telling the audience, “I got five reasons why I like to wear red shoes…Obviously I’m not wearing them right now.”

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