In a weeklong residency with Piedmont Arts and local schools, poet Roscoe Burnems proved the power of claiming one’s voice. Through workshops at Piedmont Arts, classes in Martinsville City Public Schools, and a public performance of his own work with a community-led open mic, Burnems has encouraged and inspired everyone he’s encountered to take up their pens and dive into their own creative self-expression.
Roscoe Burnems is an author, spoken-word artist, educator, and Richmond, Virginia’s first poet laureate. He is the author of the collections God, Love, Death and Other Synonyms, Chrysalis Under, and Fighting Demons. As a slam poet, he has been a two-time southern regional team finalist, National Poetry Slam Champion, and Season 1 Screen Time Slam Champion. He is a TEDx speaker and founder of the poetry based art collective The Writer’s Den. In 2021, he received an Academy of American Poets Laureate Fellowship.
On Thursday, Sept. 29th at Piedmont Arts, Burnems performed his groundbreaking performance piece, “Traumedy.” Combining jokes with spoken word poetry, the performance discussed trauma, resilience, and the human experience. It was preceded by an open mic, where local poets had a chance to share their own verses while enjoying refreshments. “Roscoe Burnems’ performance Thursday night in the galleries was beyond my high expectations,” said Heidi Pinkston, Executive Director of Piedmont Arts. “It was a true traumedy, I laughed and cried. He is a true artist.”
The following morning at Martinsville High School, students, teachers, and administration gathered in the library for a showcase of student-written spoken word pieces; the culmination of a weeks’ worth of classes. The excitement in the room was palpable as Burnems took the microphone to welcome everyone and share some of his own poetry. The room then filled with the sound of snaps as students took the microphone themselves and shared original poetry that spoke honestly from their own experiences and perspectives. The topics spanned from culture and race to body image and friendships, to familial pressures and grades.
“Does anyone else relate to that?” Burnems asked. “This is what it’s all about, building connections with each other.” After this week, there is no doubting the combined powers of honesty and the human voice to bridge those gaps.