There's a world of difference between a poetry reading and a poetry slam. At a reading, audience members are expected just to listen, but a slam is about creating an interaction between the poet and the audience.

There's a world of difference between a poetry reading and a poetry slam.

At a reading, audience members are expected just to listen, but a slam is about creating an interaction between the poet and the audience.

"People can be slow to warm up to the fact that poetry can be fun ... but I find slam to be one of the most exciting things that a writer can do with words," said local poet Rose Smith.

Smith, along with poets and writers from across the country, will compete this weekend at the 2010 Women of the World Poetry Slam, a national competition now in its third year. More than 300 people are expected to attend the competition and related events through Saturday at venues throughout the city.

At poetry slams, audience members are chosen as judges, and everyone is encouraged to respond to the poets, the judges and the emcee however they see fit. Don't like a poet's score? Boo the judge. Think a poet's work is great? Shout out your praise.

However you choose to participate, expect to be moved, said Rachel McKibbens, a poet from Rochester, New York, and winner of the 2009 Women of the World Poetry Slam.

"Be ready to feel exposed by what someone else is saying for you and is doing for you," she said. "That's what happens. The best poet - they tell their story, and it's your story too."

Originally envisioned as a way to celebrate women's voices, the Women of the World slam gives female poets the chance to listen and learn from each other in a unique way. The competition is important, but winning isn't everything, said Smith. Connecting with the audience is the most important part.

"Sometimes you can say with a poem something that a woman has been holding in for years and hasn't been able to say," Smith said. "It's truly a liberating experience for people in the audience. At the same time, it frees the poet, who is able to share that joy."

Though the competition showcases female writers, men are more than welcome to attend and are encouraged to participate in some non-competition events, said Louise Robertson, a local poet and marketing director for the 2010 event.

During four preliminary competition slams today and tomorrow, 72 poets will be scored on their poems, presentation and originality. The top 12 poets will compete at the finals, taking place at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Lincoln Theatre.

Non-competition events are free and open to the public. Preliminaries are $7 and finals are $22. For ticket info and a full schedule, click to poetryslam.com.