By Sarah Chacko

Killeen Daily Herald

On the stage at Wall Street Sunday night, the strength of words was tested at the Rhyme or Die poetry slam.

Powerful language pumped through lyrics that raced off 11 poets lips as they spoke about love, education, the threat of social pressures and the power to overcome them.

When we were poets / we spoke out of the life that we lived, versed Queen Pea of Killeen, last years Rhyme or Die winner. We articulated clearly because our words could change something / when we were poets.

Her rhymes continued on the downturn of the music industry, declaring that rap artists are more concerned with the number of tracks they lay than the words that go into them and meanings are lost between curse words and shouting.

When another CD doesnt drop / and the crowds no longer flock / will the content of your character be able to touch one life? / because it used to / When we were poets.

Killeens poetry slams started under the direction and help of Babatunde, owner of Under One Roof Afrikan Amerikan Bookstore, who started hosting open-mic nights at his store in 1997.

After hosting his 13th poetry slam two years ago, Babatunde said he passed the event down to a younger generation Silky-Crow Entertainment founders Christopher-Michael and John Crow.

I gave them a foundation, Babatunde said. Theyve taken it to another level.

The slams and open mic nights not only identify talent in the area, it offers an opportunity for people to open up, Babatunde said.

They can get raw down here, he said.

As each of the poets let loose for three minutes, the crowd around them howled in agreement and winced with the pain of a cutdown or harsh truth.

Five judges graded each poem on lyrical content, clarity and originality.

Texas currently has six poetry slam teams that compete. Silky-Crow Entertainment is looking to create a seventh, master of ceremonies Christopher-Michael said.

Its part of culture, he said. Its entertainment, and its an outlet for anyone.

Bernard Ketter of Killeen, who uses the Biblical name Iru on-stage, free-versed about a mother without a wedding ring, a fate he saw befall his mother and that he hoped would not take his daughter and sister.

A deep-rooted Christian, Ketter, 28, said he hoped his words would inspire people to live a more moral life.

Unlike the watered down messages in music today, spoken by artists who put little thought into the influence they have on others, Ketter said slam poets are a little more honest.

They tell you whats on their mind and in their heart, he said.

As far as most academic institutions were concerned / until King was murdered in 68 / we didnt matter, versed Eric Gaither, a native of Killeen. Until we could be put on the new ship / not the slave ship but the scholarship / we didnt matter.

Until we could run long enough to win the Arkansas Razorbacks a title in track / or the UT Longhorns a football plaque / We didnt matter. / The only pass a n got to a big D-1 school was a passerby. /Passerby, Passerby, Passerby, Pass or Bye.

Gaither, who is working on his doctorate in history at Drew University in New Jersey said his poetry was inspired by life experiences and the existential surroundings in which I find myself on a daily basis.

The difference between written and spoken word is the space for improvisation, the 29-year-old said.

The oral tradition with people of African descent is thousands of years old, Gaither said. Its an important and integral part of the transmission of ideas about and values of a people.

Contact Sarah Chacko at

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