Douglas Powell, known in the community by his stage name, Roscoe Burnems, has been selected as the city’s first Richmond poet laureate.
Burnems, 35, is a poet, published author, spoken-word artist, comedian and teacher. A National Poetry Slam Champion, a former TEDx speaker and founder of the Writer’s Den Art Collective, he co-hosted Tuesday Verses, one of the oldest black-owned open mics in the South.
“I write poetry to create challenging conversations and broaden perspectives,” Burnems said. “Whether the topic is race, religion or mental health, my work is dedicated to educating, uplifting humanity and breaking down the walls that divide us as a community.”
The idea for the Richmond poet laureate program came from Patty Parks, a human services employee and a former librarian.
She noticed that an increasing number of Richmond residents needed emotional and spiritual support, in addition to physical or economic help, during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Richmond Poet Laureate should relish showing kids, teens and adults the healing, restorative power of the written word,” Mayor Levar Stoney said. “Roscoe has exhibited time and again his interest in bringing poetry to the people, and his list of ideas for engagement projects tells me he’s the Richmonder for the job.”
The position will carry a $4,000 honorarium per year and run for a two-year term, with the first term from January 2021 to December 2023. The honorarium was made possible by private donors, including Sally Brown, the Poe Museum and the North Avenue Library, and does not use city funds, according to a city statement.
For his first project as poet laureate, Burnems has proposed interweaving poetry into murals around town, hosting spoken-word competitions and showcases for youth, and partnering with the Richmond Public Library system to organize a series of accessible workshops.
“I can’t wait to get started,” Burnems said.
Burnems said that over the course of his career as a teaching artist, he has learned how to show young people how to use poetry as a form of advocacy, agency and discovery and as a therapeutic process.
“I fell in love with poetry as an adolescent. Poetry has been a huge therapeutic force in my life, and I want to give it back to the next generation of writers,” Burnems said. “When a writer can be vulnerable, connect with a reader and help that reader discover something about themselves, that’s what excites me about poetry.”
Burnems lives with his family, including a 14-year-old daughter and a 4-year-old son, in Chesterfield County.
The poet laureate position was open to anyone who has been a resident of Richmond or its surrounding counties for at least five years. “Evidence of an interest in and capacity for community engagement” was a priority for Stoney when making the selection, according to a news release.
Burnems will make his debut as poet laureate at the Poe Museum’s Birthday Bash, a virtual celebration of Edgar Allan Poe’s 212th birthday. Burnems will discuss the role of the poet laureate, how Richmond shaped his poetry and upcoming ways the laureate will engage with the community.
To learn more about Roscoe Burnems, visit his website at roscoeb.webs.com.
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