By: Violet Webster

In sixth grade, I was introduced to the poetry of Sarah Kay. I was eleven, a spoken word virgin. At the beginning of our poetry unit, my English teacher found a youtube video of Sarah’s “Toothbrush to the Bicycle Tire” and played it for the class. I was immediately hooked. After two years of participating in various workshops in the Young Artists and Writers Festival, I finally decided to take my first ever poetry workshop with Sarah. I am so glad I did. We spent the first day talking about sensory imagery and the frigid temperature in the Writing Center. The second day was full of performance and sharing our poetry with the rest of the Festival. 

Here are two of the poems I wrote with the feedback of the incomparable Sarah Kay!

To My True Country

I pledge allegiance to my family

By blood

And by choice

I pledge to those who try to do the right thing

Even if they fail

to all the teachers

Who taught me how to tangle and untangle a story

From just one word

I come from the dying oak tree in my back yard

The one that stretches its branches to meet the earth when I climb it

But holds me anyway

I come from my mother’s shoulder

And her grandmother’s wedding band

That sits on top of her bony fingers

Where I come from,

We listen to Christmas music starting November 1st

We hold full conversations with eight-year-olds

We double knot our shoelaces

We drive alone down the highway at night

Windows down. Music up. Voices raised.

I pledge to writing notes on tops of palms

To my collection of friendship bracelets

To being polite to servers

And to tipping five dollars on a ten-dollar check

When you walk into a restaurant twenty minutes till closing.

We are not a country of people

Who use empty words to make empty promises

We are not in the business

Of judging others for the way they were born

Of making a mess and expecting someone else to clean it up.


Here we put our faith in slips of fortune cookie paper

On chipped nail polish we were too tired to take off

To wearing cartoon animal socks

Just to make someone laugh

To being kind to people you don’t like

And trying to leave the world a little better than the way you found it.


Wishing for Once

Once, the smell of Old Spice fluttered against my nostrils

As your lips grazed my collar bone and your fingers crept between mine.

Once, the swick of playing cards and the thundering of my heart at a stolen glance

Was loud enough to drown out the doubt in our minds

Once, it seemed that everything would turn out just fine.

But somehow,

In just an hour or two

The space between my hand and yours stretched

From an inch to a mile

What once was a perfect smile

Became your eyes barely meeting mine.

Maybe it was your parent’s disapproval

Eating its way into your better judgment

Maybe it was the thought of the summer heat

Crumbling away through the fall

And blowing away with the autumn leaves

That ripped the warmth of your fingers from my cheek

Maybe it was me holding on too tight

That turned the taste of sweat

Into a snapchat message left on received.

All I know for sure is

Once, your name held weight,

But now when I hear it

I just feel empty.