“I’m not allowed to get angry”I’m white, male and straight”but people overlook that I am very, very short.”

Thus the plight of short people is explored in the signature poem, “Death From Below,” by Tim Stafford, 26, and Dan Sullivan (aka Dan Sully), 23, a local spoken word duo, which takes its name from the aforementioned poem and whose poetry performance aired on HBO’s Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry last Friday night.

Thus the plight of short people is explored in the signature poem, “Death From Below,” by Tim Stafford, 26, and Dan Sullivan (aka Dan Sully), 23, a local spoken word duo, which takes its name from the aforementioned poem and whose poetry performance aired on HBO’s Russell Simmons Presents Def Poetry last Friday night.

The show, in its fifth season, is hosted by hip-hop artist and actor Mos Def and features poets performing their original works before a live audience. Def Poetry boasts a variety of voices and includes the works of urban poets just starting out, masters of the craft and celebrated actors. Stafford and Sullivan, who flew to New York to film the show in January, were featured in the same episode with a handful of performers including Alicia Keys, John Legend, Caroline Harvey and Al Letson.

“It was kind of bizarre because we sent in an audition tape and a couple weeks later they said, ‘You’re on,'” recalled Stafford. “We got there and met Run DMC and Smokey Robinson. … I’d never met any celebrities and all of a sudden I was hanging out with rap stars and musical legends.”

The Death From Below duo first saw their episode of Def Poetry at a viewing party hosted by Sullivan’s parents on Friday. Stafford said filming the show went so quickly he didn’t have a chance to get nervous, but he felt a bit nervous watching it for the first time.

“Def Poetry Jam is almost like being in the Minor Leagues and getting called up to pitch for the White Sox one game,” he said. “I was a fan of the show and always had been. It’s a goal of everyone who does spoken word poetry. It’s not going to make or break you, but to do it is really cool.”

Stafford and Sullivan, who regularly perform together, met through a mutual teacher several years ago at Columbia College. They clicked as friends and colleagues because “we saw similar artistic vision, and had a same interest in the world outside of the artistry,” said Sullivan.

They use their chosen craft as a means to express the thoughts and feelings that are often overlooked and under-expressed.

“We deal with poetry that is based on a sense of humor, trying to capture a voice that is true to Chicago,” said Sullivan.

Both Stafford and Sullivan say they’d like to continue to make a career out of their poetry and remain heavily involved in a variety of projects. Sullivan said he’s also interested in teaching poetry as a career and works with Peter Kahn as co-leader of the Oak Park and River Forest High School Spoken Word/Poetry Club. The club, which has about 60 members, teaches students how to express their feelings through poetry and perform their pieces in three shows each year.

“Pete and I push them to share their stories,” said Sullivan. “We tell them, ‘We don’t want a love poem anyone could have written. We want the stories that only you could tell.'”

Sullivan, an OPRF graduate, used to participate in the Spoken Word/Poetry Club under Peter Kahn when he was in high school.

“I love working with high school kids,” he said. “It’s not necessarily the only age group I will work with, but I could definitely see that for a long time.”

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