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'You're The Reason I Started Doing Performance Poetry'

Carrboro High School teacher Mackenzie Malkemes and junior Ryley McGinnis
Timothy Leow

'You've really inspired me, honestly, to write. I think - actually I know - you're the reason I started doing performance poetry.' - Ryley McGinnis

WUNC is in the midst of a yearlong examination of what it's like to be an educator, called the North Carolina Teacher Project. This week, we're exploring what it takes to make a connection in the classroom by asking students to interview their teachers.

Ryley McGinnis was shy and hadn't thought much about performance poetry when she entered Mackensie Malkemes' English class at Carrboro High School, but  a year later, Ryley is writing and reading her poetry out loud whenever she has the chance.

Ryley shows Ms. Malkemes how far she's come by reciting her latest spoken-word poem.

Carrboro High School teacher Mackenzie Malkemes and junior Ryley McGinnis

Editor's note: the following contains some profanity

High Horses
By Ryley McGinnis

I’m the third string player you only put in when your first player is out of the game, the second is annoying you and I was voted most likely to succeed after everyone else failed
My yearbook, like a badge of my shame and lack of friends

But when you and I first met we were instant friends, second time we were sisters, and third I was a shadow because you had another companion
Maybe it’s ‘cause she had a higher social status than I or maybe it’s cause her pedestal was taller than yours and you have to climb something to get to the top.
But I think it was both
Even though when your boyfriend treated you like crap, I flung it back at him and gave you the courage to stand up for yourself
And when he left, I helped you pick up the reasons for staying strong and putting it together in a perfect puzzle, because you were a perfectionist
And I was the boldest for thinking we were friends

And you were the know-it-all, thinking your knowledge was universal
Your knowledge on social skills
Your knowledge on how to get ahead
Your skill at cutting throats, friendships and promises
Because you thought you were better than me
Cooler on a scale of rude to cruel
Cruder on a scale of your head count, on how many you stepped and squashed on to be the best
But the view from the top gets quite lonely.
But loneliness is worth it when you get the connection you get the recognition and I get a wink from your throne made of selfishness and betrayal but one day someone will overthrow you.
Empires change like minds and yours consists of equality for all like communism, expect you are the unequaled
You are the leader but I don't fall in line quite easily.
Straight was never my forte with outlines and predetermined subjects on what to think about.
And you were a hero to many lonely souls who you couldn't show in public ‘cause,
Well, You have an image
And I’m a loser
My mouth might as well come with caution tape, because what comes out next might be stupid, irrelevant, or repetitive, but I would rather repeat the crappy things I see in the world than say nothing at all.

The assholes that treat girls like shit
The girls that treat girls like shit
The assholes that treat girls like shit
And then the people like you.
The girl that treats everyone like the shit you place at my doorstep
Arrogance rides high horses and yours is the tallest with two faces, both with a wink
I don't want to be a valley girl
Spending hours on their face I want to spend hours writing my story on this page
My body as an expression of my words, the canvass bigger than your vocabulary, but I don't need a thesaurus to sound impressive. It's the order of the verses I put them in.

And I would rather be a loser than be like you
I would rather be alone than be manipulative
I would rather be me than be a robot

But I’m not a third string in a line of friends
Not a stand in when your first friend is out of town, the second is annoying you,
and I was most likely to be talked to if everyone else “failed” you
I’m a first string me
Who the hell are you?

Ryley's conversation with Mackensie Malkemes is part of WUNC's My Teacher series. It's also a part of American Graduate-Let’s Make it Happen!- a public media initiative to address the drop out crisis, supported by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The My Teacher series is produced and facilitated by Will Michaels.

Want to submit your own story about a teacher? We'd like to hear it!

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