The art of spoken word poetry turned competitive at the Carrboro Arts Center on Saturday with the “Voicebox Youth Slam.”
The event was presented by UNC’s Sacrificial Poets.
Participants from ages 13-19 competed in three rounds of poetry slams at the event. Five randomly selected audience members served as the judges who determined which contestants advanced to the Sacrificial Poets Grand Slam. The winners of the Grand Slam will advance to the International Youth Poetry Festival.
Will McInerney, executive director of the Sacrificial Poets, described the group as a non-profit organization that works with students during, after and outside of school. The organization teaches its spoken word curriculum in over 30 schools across the Triangle. It also teaches workshops and hosts performances and community events.
Youth Outreach Coordinator CJ Suitt said the slam provides an opportunity for students to come together and share their stories with one another.
“I’m super excited about it because it’s a place where young people can get to be themselves and get to trump the stereotypes and archetypes that people see them with in the classroom, in our society and in the world,” Suitt said.
The concept of random judges is common for poetry slams.
At the “Voicebox Youth Slam,” the judges assigned each poem a score of 1 to 10. The highest score and lowest scores were dropped, and the poet with the highest score will advance.
“If you’re just looking for a good time I guarantee you will come and will laugh—you might cry, too—you will be moved in some way, and that’s the power of the art form,” McInerney said.
Local poet Maliyah Tan said she hopes to qualify at the Voicebox Slam because as a 19-year-old, this is her last year to compete with the team.
Tan said performing spoken word is very liberating.
“It’s an amazing art form that a lot of people don’t know about because usually when you think about poetry, you think about old, dead white guys that you have to study in class — it’s not that at all, and it doesn’t have to be that.”
Suitt works with high school-aged poets every day, and as a performance-based poet he often helps students with spoken word delivery.
“Poetry is as natural as conversation, so the more you can get on the stage and have the audience feel like they’re with you and they’re the only person in your audience, the better,” Suitt said.
McInerney also said that poetry is a way for today’s youth to speak up and let their voices be heard. He described the Sacrificial Poets as a tool to help students discover the art of spoken word.
“All too often, young people are silenced and are marginalized to agree that [adults] speak for them — we try to encourage young folks to remember that if you don’t tell your story, then somebody else will,” he said.
McInerny said spoken word is an important and powerful way for a community to grow by encouraging outspokenness.
“Saturday night is an opportunity to hear young people speaking for themselves, telling their truth and empowering themselves through their own stories and their own voices.”
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