Rashan Brown thinks of poetry like this: "Imagine closing your eyes, and we're walking down a street, but you don't know what's going on. You're holding my hand walking down the street, and I'm trying to explain to you, 'here's the life that I've lived, here's the people that I've met, the experiences that I've had, the trials and tribulations.' It's personal for me at every step of the way. And then I just take a step back and say, 'there's so many other people that can resonate with what I'm saying.'"
As a spoken word artist and the founder of “poetry me, please,” Brown has worked for the past three years to bring more of those personal stories to the stage. Now, he’s set to present on one of the most beloved stages in the city: The Apollo Theater in Harlem. The event on Saturday, November 25, will be the largest poetry showcase in NYC since Def Poetry Jam on Broadway in 2008, event organizers say; tickets are on sale now starting at $50.
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Brown, a Bronx native, organized "poetry me, please“ in 2019 as a live spoken word poetry showcase. Though the pandemic delayed the group’s launch, he now hosts regular poetry showcases in New York City, which attract more than 400 guests to venues like The Cutting Room and City Winery.
At each show, poets get seven minutes on stage, plus Brown hires a videographer to film their work and a photographer to provide them headshots. Ticket sales cover those costs, offering those resources free of charge to the poets—a rarity in the poetry community where poets often have to pay even for stage time.
Brown wanted to change that narrative and wanted to provide a space where more poets could feel the same excitement he did at his first performance. Inspired by battle rap and with a passion for writing, Brown started creating poetry as a way to express himself during high school. Reflecting on that experience early on propels Brown forward in his work with "poetry me, please."
"People are coming into a safe space, especially people of color, Black African Americans, where, you know, we don't have these spaces that we can really be vulnerable, especially in a room full of strangers," he tells Time Out New York. "Knowing that we're bringing appreciation back to poetry and the art of spoken word is always the highlight for me."
In addition to poetry, events often include musical acts at intermission, from tap dances to piano performances. Attendees come from as far away as California and Texas, as well as right here in the five boroughs.
As for The Apollo event, event organizers hosted a contest on social media inviting anybody to enter for a chance to perform. More than 200 people submitted videos of their poetry, and organizers are announcing the winners on Instagram.
The Apollo showcase will triple the capacity for the usual events by "poetry me, please."
"It's going to be huge," Brown says. "This is going to be PMP making history at the Apollo."
For Brown, he finds inspiration in music (like PARTYNEXTDOOR, Drake, and Justin Timberlake to name a few) as well as in his neighborhood (especially biking through Pelham Bay Park). He shared an excerpt of one of his poems below:
capital B me, please.
black as in the absence of visible light, as if this melanin does not light the room.
black as in we are inadequate as if we aren't already over qualified to be in this damn room
black as in you don't see color
but Black as in.. I. Will. Be. Recognized.
oh we are not the same, think before you let your fingers speak and put some respect on our name
black is no longer acceptable
so capital B me, please!
because "black" just don't sit right with me.