'Sacrificial Poets' Teach Students How To Spit Poetry

Nov 15, 2013

Spoken word poetry is about dramatic storytelling. A Raleigh performance poetry group called Sacrificial Poets is performing at UNC Charlotte this weekend. They're in town for a three-day residency that involves teaching college students and visiting some local schools to teach them about the art of busting a rhyme.

Sacrificial Poets artist director Kane "Novakane" Smego, starts off the class with a piece about growing up in Durham with a single mother.  

I swear allegiance to my X Chromosome
The one my mother gave me
The one that pushed mops for 17 years so we could eat
I swear allegiance to my X Chromosome
'Cause Mama Was My Guardian
Papa Was A Rolling Stone … 

The middle school and high school students begin to snap all throughout his piece. It's a way of showing appreciation without clapping and interrupting.

But I cling to the hope that it's going to get better
No feeling under the weather. I wonder whether
The wonderful pleasures will ever come her direction
Must my mother struggle forever
There's no light
She's stuck in this cellar it seems like
In this life everyone is against
Depression is present man
Because the pressure is set up ... 

Sacrificial Poets began about a decade ago as the Chapel Hill Slam Team. C.J. Suitts has been with the group from the beginning when he was a high school senior. Today, he's the group's youth director. To get the students started on writing their own poems, he asks them to name some of the world's problems.

One student suggests that bipolar disorder and schizophrenia is a problem. Within a few minutes the whiteboard is full. War. Poverty. Gang violence. Pollution. Eating disorders. Suicide. Bullying.

And then the students set to writing with the help of five members of Sacrificial Poets.

Some of the students perform their poems at the end of the class. The poems are personal and raw. One seventh grader shares the story of how she was hurting herself:

One Blade Cuts Her Open
One Blade Diffuses Her
One Blade Rips Her World Apart
One Blade Hurts Her Still
One Blade Is Her Escape
One Blade Loves Her For Her Blood

Her poem concludes on a happy note as she resolves to stand tall and describes destroying the blade that was destroying her. 

Tenth grader Jordan Bailey performs his poem about drug dealing.
Credit Tasnim Shamma

In another poem, high school junior, Jordan Bailey, wrote about how a drug dealer was ruining his neighborhood:

You gave my aunt brain damage
You gave my uncle that pretty bracelet on his ankle
And my cousin that last ride
The days of my neighborhood glorifying you are over
So when the police say, have you seen Antoine the dope dealer?
I'll point and watch you drop your little American dream in the dumpster next door

Sacrificial Poets also visited Harding University High School this week in addition to teaching on UNC Charlotte's campus. The Chapel Hill Slam Team became the Sacrificial Poets in 2008 after the murder of one of its members, Irina (Ira) Yarmalenko. She had just finished her second year at UNC Charlotte and was planning to transfer to UNC Chapel Hill, in part because of the group. 

"And so we named ourselves the sacrificial poets," says C.J. Suitts. "It has a double meaning because in slam, the sacrificial poet is the poet who sort of sets the tone for the slam. Sort of gives people a feel for what the evening; the event is going to be like. And we felt like Ira was the ultimate sacrificial poet and her life was her poem."

The Sacrificial Poets perform Saturday night at UNC Charlotte's Cone Center After Hours Performance Space. The performance is free and starts at 7:30 p.m.