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Louder Than a Bomb is an annual teen poetry festival and competition based in Omaha and featuring schools from all over Nebraska and the Great Plains. Louder Than a Bomb is one of the programs of the Nebraska Writers Collective, an Omaha-based literary education non-profit organization.

This rulebook talks first about eligibility, then about the competition format, and then about restrictions placed on the poems themselves, before finishing with a series of recommendations.


The Nebraska Writers Collective believes in and affirms the right of all individuals to educational and employment opportunities. As such, it welcomes all, regardless of race, color, sex, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability, age, familial status, parental status, marital status, creed, national origin, genetic information, veteran status, political views or affiliations, or associational preferences.


  1. Each team must be sponsored by a junior or senior high school or a community organization serving junior high or high school-age youth. Each sponsoring school or organization may field only one team.
  1. Schools or organizations wishing to sponsor a team must notify the LTaB organizers no later than 5 weeks prior to the start of competition in March. At this time, said school or organization must identify an adult sponsor who is affiliated with that school or organization, i.e. a teacher, faculty-member, or other, similarly placed adult who will work with an LTaB coach placed by the Nebraska Writers Collective.This adult sponsor is responsible for coordinating students, acting as liaison between the school and the Nebraska Writers Collective, and supervising all meetings between the coach and the team (per NWC policies and school district policies).
  1. All participants competing on a team must be enrolled in a middle school, high school, or GED program, or must have completed schooling in the same scholastic year as LTaB. All participants must be 19 years old or younger the day the competition begins. Similarly, all participants must be affiliated with the school or organization which is sponsoring the team on which they compete. Any participant seeking exemption from these requirements (e.g. a home-schooled student who wants to compete with her local school) must do so in writing at least 5 weeks before competition begins.
  1. In order for a team to compete, that team should have at least 4 members and must not have more than 10 members competing in a season. Others may be on the team in a non-competing capacity. All competing team members must be registered with the LTaB organizers prior to the start of the first bout. Only registered team members may compete.  Teams who show up to a bout with fewer than 4 members will still be allowed to compete.
  1. If a team cannot attend, please notify the LTaB tournament committee as soon as possible so that others may participate.


  1. The LTaB competition takes place over a series of “bouts,” in which a small number of teams (typically 3 or 4) compete. Bouts take place over five “rounds,” each of which feature one poem from every team competing in that bout.
  1. The first four rounds will each feature one poem from each school (if a team has fewer than four members, it will perform in as many rounds as it has members, and will receive a score of 0.0 for each round for which it does not have an eligible poet), such that each school ultimately puts up four different poems featuring at least four different authors. At least three of the poems sent up by each team over the first four rounds will feature an individual poet performing their own work.The other poem in these first four rounds (which may occur in any of the first four rounds) may be a group piece poem (featuring 2-4 members) or may be an individual poem. The first four rounds of a bout occur in a pre-determined order (the exact ordering format depends on how many teams are in the bout. Teams draw for position).
  1. The fifth and final round in a bout is the group piece round. In this round, exactly 4 team-members (or as many poets as that school has, if the school shows up with fewer than 4) from each school perform a group piece. Teams in the fifth round will perform in order of rank from lowest to highest. In the event of a tie at the end of the fourth round, teams who are tied will perform in reverse order from their fourth round order.If a team is able to field a 4-person group piece in the final round and does not (either electing to use fewer than or more than 4 members), that team will be assessed a 1.0 point penalty. Teams with fewer than 4 members present at a bout must feature all team members present that day in the group piece round, else that team will be subject to the same penalty.
  1. No student may appear on stage more than 2 times in a given bout. Additionally, no student may have more than one individual poem in a bout (a student may appear in an individual poem and 1 group piece), and no team may put up more than one group piece over the first four rounds (teams may choose to not put up a group piece over the first four rounds). Any team who breaks this rule will see a 2.0 point penalty applied to their total score for each infraction, counted by student and by poem (e.g. a poem featuring two students who are on stage for the third time in that bout will incur a 4.0 point penalty, 2.0 for each student). In the case a team only has 4 members, and in the case that the Coach, Sponsoring Teacher, and Core Teaching Artist certify to the NWC that there have been only 4 poets at their meetings and that there will only be 4 poets on their roster, this rule may be waived on a case-by-case basis to allow small teams to present a duet or group piece in the first four rounds should they choose to do so. In these exceptional cases, poets may appear on stage 3 times in one bout.  However, poets may not present more than one individual poem during a bout and all 4 poets must appear on stage in the first 4 rounds.
  1. Each bout will have a host, bout manager, timer, and scorekeeper (note: sometimes two or more of these roles will be fulfilled by the same person), all of whom will be provided by the LTaB organizers. Bouts may also have a venue manager, one or more stage-hands, photographers, video-photographers, a DJ, and other staffing as deemed appropriate by the tournament committee.
  1. ​Team members must be physically present and checked in with the bout manager at least 30 minutes prior to the start of the bout. Bout draw will occur 15 minutes before the bout begins.  Any team whose poets are not present at this time will automatically be placed in the A slot. Should multiple teams be late, they will be randomly placed in the earliest slots by a method determined by the bout manager. Bouts will begin on time. If a team’s members are not present to compete by the time their slot arrives, they will receive a zero for that slot and the competition will continue.  If a team arrives later in the competition, they may join in when they get there; however there is no opportunity for them to recover points from slots that have already passed.
  1. Between the fourth and fifth round of a given bout, the bout manager, a tournament committee representative, and all coaches of teams participating in the bout will meet, briefly, to check scores, discuss protests or infractions, and to otherwise ensure that the bout is running smoothly.
  1. A mixed panel of five artists, educators, and audience members shall judge each bout. Judges should not be affiliated in any way with the teams they are judging; should a team suspect such an affiliation, they may challenge the judge selection to the bout manager and should a team member be affiliated with a judge, they should reveal this right away.
  1. Each poem performed in the bout shall receive a score from each judge ranging from 0.0 to 10.0 inclusive (i.e. to one decimal place). The scores are then arranged from greatest to least, and then the lowest and highest scores are dropped. The sum of the remaining three scores becomes the poet’s score for that bout (and will be between 0.0 and 30.0). The scores accrued by members of a team within a bout are cumulative, such that at the end of the bout, teams will have a score between 0.0 and 150.0. The team with the highest cumulative score at the end of the bout receives a rank of 1, followed by the second-place team with a rank of 2, and so on. If there is a tie at the end of a preliminary bout, tied teams will share the resultant rank.
  1. Each team shall compete in 2 preliminary bouts, each with five rounds. Poems may not be repeated within a given bout, but may be repeated between bouts. Thus, teams must prepare a minimum of 5 written pieces for LTaB.
  1. Coaches shall determine their roster of 4-10 competing poets prior to the start of competition, and will submit this roster to the tournament organizers before the start of the first bout. Poets may be added to the roster between the first and second preliminary bout, but not between the second preliminary bout and semifinals, nor between semifinals and finals. Poets may not be removed from the roster.
  1. In years where the competition features twenty-four or fewer participating teams, there will be two four-team semifinal bouts, with the top two teams from each bout progressing to finals. In years where the competition features forty-eight or fewer participating teams, there will be four four-team semifinal bouts, with the top team from each semifinal progressing to finals. In years with more than forty-eight teams participating, tournament organizers may choose to add quarter-final bouts as they see fit. Semifinals will be seeded by the tournament organizers to ensure an even and equitable distribution of teams between semifinal bouts.
  1. If there is a tie for first at the end of a semifinals bout (or a tie for second in years when the top two teams from each semifinals bout advance to finals, or a tie for an advancing rank out of quarterfinals in years with quarterfinals), then tied teams enter into a tie-breaker round. During a tie-breaker round, teams may use any poem that has not yet been used in that bout (thus, any poet or combination of poets may appear again on stage, regardless of how many times they’ve already appeared on stage) and will read in reverse order of the fifth-round order. If there are two tied teams, judges will hear both poems and then vote for the team to advance. If there are three or more tied teams, judges will assign scores as usual. If there is a tie for first at the end of finals, tied teams will decide whether they want to take the tie or if they want to do a tiebreaker (this discussion will be moderated by the bout manager).


  1. All poems must be the original work of the poet(s) performing them. Plagiarized poems, poems which directly pull from the work of others without doing substantial creative work, or poems that use original pulled from other sources without citation will be disqualified (i.e. will receive a score of 0.0). Note: direct quotations with attribution/citation, allusions, or inspiration typically do not count as plagiarism, though any language directly pulled from another source should be verbally cited. When in doubt, check with the LTaB organizers or with the bout manager. Plagiarism not caught at the bout can be disqualified after, changing that poem’s score in the bout to a 0.0.At least 85% of the poem (as measured in seconds, rounded up to the nearest 10 seconds) must contain original work as the primary text. The poem may then include quoted work like quotations or song lyrics in up to 15% of the poem as primary text, and as background in the other 85% Thus, a 3-minute poem may contain up to 30 seconds of quoted material as the primary text (the only words being spoken for that portion of the poem), a 2-minute poem may contain up to 20 seconds of quoted material, and a 1-minute poem may contain up to ten seconds of quoted material. All quoted material should be attributed with a verbal citation (this citation must come in the poem or in the introduction to the poem).If a coach, team member, or audience member suspects that a poem contains plagiarized material, that person should bring it to the attention of the tournament committee.
  1. In deference to creating a space where as many people as possible are able to participate, and feel safe doing so, we ask that participants limit their speech in a few notable ways:Each instance of an offensive speech act (as determined by the bout manager and/or tournament committee) will result in a 0.5 point penalty to the poem’s score. A single poem may have multiple instances of offensive speech. The final decision as to a poem’s appropriateness for LTAB, as well as any penalties for content violations, rests with the tournament committee.Poems performed should not encourage violence or apply racial, ethnic, gender-biased, homophobic, religious, able-ist, or otherwise discriminatory slurs, speech, or language to anyone. Additionally, poems should not contain profanity. Finally, poems should not contain sexually explicit or pornographic language.Poems should take care not to bias audiences against other competing schools, taking care of the examples they use in the writing. Such instances will result in a 1 point penalty per instance. Poems may (and are encouraged to) celebrate other competing schools and poets.Poems may discuss trauma, tragedy, violence, discrimination, profanity, and/or cultural norms and mores (among other topics), and in doing so the poet may find that the use of language otherwise prohibited above is absolutely necessary in order to fulfill the artistic intent of the poem. In these instances, the poet should make the poem’s intent absolutely clear, and should check with their coach (who should in turn check with organizers).
  1. Poems may last up to 3 minutes and 10 seconds before time-penalties are assessed. Time penalties shall be 0.5 points for every 10 seconds over the time allotment (rounded up). Any poem that lasts longer than 4 minutes will be stopped by the host at the 4 minute mark and will be scored as though it lasted for 4 minutes. In finals bouts, poems may last up to 3 minute and 30 seconds before penalties are assessed. All other time rules remain the same.The timekeeper may not and will not signal poets with time-warnings, though a poet’s coach or teammate may (unobtrusively) give such signals.
  1. Poets may not feature props, musical accompaniment, costumes. The penalty for these infractions is 1 full point per infraction. Poets may, however, stomp, clap, snap, sing, beatbox, etc., so long as all noises are created by the interaction between the poet’s body, the stage, and/or the microphone(s).A prop is defined as: an object or article of clothing introduced into a performance with the effect of enhancing, illustrating, underscoring, or otherwise augmenting the words of the poem.

    A costume is defined as: any piece of clothing or accessory that is worn on the stage which is not part of the poet’s regular street clothing but is worn to enhance performance. A clear indication of costume would be something that a poet changes into after arriving at the venue specifically for the poem or something that they change into or out of between performances on stage. Taking off outerwear (coat, jacket, hat, scarf, etc.) should not be considered when determining costuming.

These rules are not meant to be simply punitive. In a bout, changes in the penalty amount can be made at the discretion of the bout manager with help from 2 or more other members of the Tournament Committee (Example: a team has a costume change which more strongly or less strongly affects the delivery of a poem and its effect on the audience; this allows for a greater or a lesser amount to the penalty). Outside of a bout, changes can be made by the full Tournament Committee provided none of the Committee members veto the decision of the majority (Example: a team of 4 loses a member after the prelim bouts. The rules say this member cannot be replaced. However, provided they are not replacing the member with a ringer and the circumstances of losing the team member are not under the team’s control, the Tournament Committee may revue this and decide if refusing to let them add a replacement would be solely punitive or not).