Photo © Ray Johnson (

Interview with Slam Poet/Love Poet Terry Moore by Crawdad Nelson (for more info on Terry Moore, visit his website at

When he strides onto the stage to host The Show, a monthly spoken-word performance at the plush Guild Theater, Terry Moore shows every sign of being comfortable in front of a crowd. That's no accident. By his estimate, he has performed at venues large and small, from Sacramento cafes to the legendary Apollo Theater, so far 700 times. And there's no indication he'll slow down soon. Terry is a planning a ten-city, three-week tour covering two-thirds of the U.S., and he admits that he will perform just about anywhere and anytime.

If a reading suddenly broke out, how many poems could you perform from memory?

I can recite 21 straight. They average about three minutes, so about an hour. As a matter of fact, for this holiday season I have eight bookings for an hour each. Like at City College, they booked me for an hour next month. It's a compliment, because they're saying people can stand to hear me for an hour.

Why poetry? How did it all start?

I was in the military on an aircraft carrier, with nothing to do, and I caught myself writing these love letters, with a fancy method, and I didn't even realize I was writing poetry. People got hold of it, when I got back, and they said, 'this is a great poem'. Eventually an ex-girlfriend loved one of my poems, and she showed it to everybody, and everybody wanted a copy, so it got to a store, and the store wanted more, and it just took off. It was an accident.

Slam poet or performance poet?

I do all of it. At times I'm a slam poet. I was on the Sacramento Slam Team. I went to Nationals. Technically, I am a slam poet. I consider myself more a performance poet. The majority of my time is spent opening for concerts, that type of stuff. I'm a performance poet who does slamming.

What about the competitive aspect of slamming?

As long as I do it as fun. I don't look at slamming as a way to advance my career. I only do it to test my own skills and to have some fun. I don't take it seriously as far as how it measures me. Slam poetry's real competitive. I just want to share, I don't want to have to be getting a better score than some other guy. I do enjoy the excitement of getting a ten. It's good to know I've tried out a poem that works everywhere. It has its pros and cons. But I kind of like having the ability to do it all. One day I might read off a piece of paper, the next day I might do a slam, the next I might be back on the stage of the Apollo theater.

How much money do you make from poetry?

Not many of us poets are getting rich. I'm not driving a Bentley from writing poems. It has given me a few nice things in my house. It pays. It helps me get extra things for my daughter. It's helped me pay a couple of those delinquent bills. I've done very well in the past. Not right now, because I'm just coming off a break, but in the past, especially when I first started getting hot in the community. I made a lot of money. Not a whole lot, but a lot for a poet. If you make fifty bucks at a reading, that's big-time.

Describe a perfect performance?

I remember all my pieces, no stuttering. If I do three or four poems, and after the first one I get a standing ovation, and the crowd is enjoying it so much I can't even get through my poems, because of the intensity, and when I walk off the stage I see 25 percent of them are crying, 25 percent laughing, 25 percent of them are screaming, and 25 percent of them are just in awe.

Or trying to get your phone number?

Or trying to get my phone number. At least one panty thrown on stage. Now that's a perfect performance.

How does slam poetry compare to the regular stuff?

Slam poetry is meant to give a charge. The deeper you get, and the harder you come the better it's considered. Standard poetry is a little more about the subtle meanings of things.

How do you find the passion to keep a tour like that going?

The audience. The people in the audience expressing their appreciation. I get pretty tired and almost frustrated when I know I have to perform, but when I feel the vibe and the excitement in the audience it just picks me up, and makes me want to do better and better. After I hear the audience, I get energy.

Would you like to tour full-time?

I would tour for three or four months. I wouldn't do that heavy of a schedule. I wouldn't tour more than a few months, then relax, have vacation time, sort of like the NBA, so I could keep coming back with fresh material. I like to have fresh stuff.

What do people respond to in your work?

The vulnerability of it. Women really like the vulnerability of my poetry. The fact that I can bring some humor into t it. I think the humor is what people enjoy. I don't do a whole lot of really serious, serious poetry. It's more inspirational and light-hearted. I think people really enjoy that, versus when I get up there and really drive home a poem about a kid that I got out of the garbage or something. People really enjoy when I crack a joke, about a relationship, or myself. I'm human just like you, I'm tellin' the story that you're living. They can identify with my work very easily. That's what people tell me.

And what does the work give you?

It just give me the satisfaction of knowing that I’m spreading messages for God, that I'm spreading positive messages. It gives me something to do in my spare time, because my mama always said ‘Idle hands are the devil's playthings.’ So, it keeps me out of trouble. and the other thing, it’s the personal satisfaction. I don't have a lot of money or things that I can give to people, but one thing I can give is my positive words. And I know that its doing some healing. It gives me a lot of self-esteem and a sense of pride

What’s it like after a good performance?

That's when I’m juiced. I'm usually looking around, when I'm leaving, and I love it when people grab my arm and say, "Hey, I really loved that," and their faces are lit up. That's what makes it all worthwhile to me. To see their faces and hear their voices after a good performance. Nobody wants to hear slam poetry for an hour, that's why I perform more. I have jokes that I tell, I have love poems, the whole versatility of it, and then I interact with the audience. I do read off paper because I like to have something new and fresh. I'm always doing new poems

© Terry Moore and Crawdad Nelson