By Amelia Verkerk and Corey Risinger
Sacrificial Poets is a non-profit, award-winning spoken word poetry organization that serves middle school through college-aged youth in the Triangle Area. Though established in 2005 as the Chapel Hill Slam Team, the organization changed its name after the tragic murder of founding member Irina Yarmolenko in 2008. The title “Sacrificial Poets” commemorates Yarmolenko’s legacy and contribution to the community.
The organization assists with writing workshops throughout the state and also helps students with performing their poetry.
“[We]. . . use the spoken and written word to activate, nurture, and amplify youth voices through creative expression, self-exploration, and the cultivation of safe spaces,” Sacrificial Poets explains in their mission statement.
“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,” said Will McInerney, the executive director of the Sacrificial Poets.
The poetry group hosts several youth poetry events, including an open-mic night every first Wednesday of every month at Flyleaf Books. With free admission and an open sign up sheet, the 6-year tradition provides a creative way of meeting interesting people and finding a safe environment to express one’s voice. The poets’ previous experience is irrelevant, for the goal of the Sacrificial Poets is to foster a safe, welcoming atmosphere for all participants and subject matters. This aim yields a diverse expression of local students, citizens.
The Sacrificial Poets work across North Carolina, serving over 30 schools and 8,000 youth annually. Two active staff members of the Sacrificial Poets, C.J. Suitt and Jasmine Farmer, came to East’s English classes last year to spark interest for their workshops and describe the unique events they host. Their in-school, after-school, and out-of-school programs are structured to help youth to empower themselves through their own voices and stories.
Senior Izzy Settles has been involved with the Sacrificial Poets since he was introduced to the group in the 6th grade. While the Wednesday events are always different, he says they always give an interesting commentary. For settles, poetry slams are experiences unlike any other.
“[They] take you away from the stereotypes of poetry slams. [With the Sacrificial Poets,] it’s more live, really animated,” Settles said.
According to Settles, the enthusiasm of the poets and audience transcends the poems themselves. Body language and response is a significant factor in the performances.
“[I love] seeing the reaction on peoples’ faces when they don’t expect it. To hear the claps and the snaps. . .It’s a completely different experience from everything else,” Settles said.
Though Settles explains some register to speak in advance, the events are always open for new poets to experience the rush of performance, communication.