Last summer, the Recording Academy made the decision to show poets love, adding the category Best Spoken Word Poetry Album to their list of Grammy awards.
Spoken Word Artist Dillon Brown’s goal is to bring some of that recognition Long Island’s way.
“Long Island is where I call home and [I want] to create a venue for students to hone their craft,” said Brown. “With the new category Best Spoken Word Album, the average poet can now release an album and be nominated for a Grammy.”
Brown, who has been in the spoken word game for 12 years, created a poetry showcase called SoulFul Sunday back in Spring 2016. Six years later, Brown has rebranded switching the name to BOP Open Mic Night. BOP stands for box office poets. In December, he hosted the event for the first time at Lindenhurst’s Bisou event space co-hosting with fellow poet and performer Ally Mari. The crowd who attended had a New York area reach with people coming from the Bronx, Queens, New Jersey and of course Long Island.
“I think these are great events to bring to the island cause I feel like it brings a different side of diversity,” said Poet and open mic night participant Intentionally Ky. “Poetry is one of those things that most people read but hearing it is a different thing. Spoken word is really big in the cities and those communities and I feel like bringing it out to Long Island could be a big thing and bring a lot of diversity to the island.”
The roots of modern American spoken word poetry can be found not too far from the island in the diverse community of Harlem. It developed in the 1950s and 60s during the Harlem Renaissance and was thoroughly used as a tool of activism during the Civil Rights Movement. Modern American spoken word draws from Greek and ancient African cultures. Orators would often memorize and recite poetry in Greece as a form of entertainment. In Africa, griots, or oral storytellers, would regularly recall and pass down their history to the next generation. These practices have morphed into spoken word performances that often entertain and educate at the same time.
During the open mic night, each poet was given a three-minute slot to speak their truth and leave it all on stage. Poets covered a range of topics from seasonal depression and legacy to death and wild women. Eight poets overall took the stage and performed in front of an intimate and receptive audience.
The event closed with feature poet and HBO Def Poetry Jam Participant Bonafide Rojas, who was able to tug at the audience’s heartstrings while adding in lighthearted humor throughout his interactive performance.
“What I like to do especially in features is give a wide range of emotions, and keep you on your toes,” said Rojas. “One poem I might be really sad and then I might break the tension with a really off-color joke and then go back into something sad again.”
The self-proclaimed purist poet was able to do so, sprinkling in some jokes in between serious subjects such as the birth of his son, losing his parents and a rough break up. Rojas, who has had a 28-year career as a spoken word poet, advises that if you want to make a career in this industry, the key is long-term planning.
“Think of longevity,” said Rojas. “Make really long-term goals. Don’t let this be something you’re doing in the moment. Let this be something that you wanna build your foundation on. You have to constantly do it. I’ve been around long enough where every five years there’s a new set of writers and that’s fine and we all start out from a place where we’re really new and kind of suffer from imposter syndrome. You get rid all of that the longer you stay on something.”
The event featured seasoned poets like Rojas as well as newcomers like Internationally Ky, who was just as excited to perform in front of an audience for the first time right at home on Long Island.
“I am blessed to be a part of this project and be able to bring a different sound, flow and style to poetry on Long Island,” said the Uniondale resident. “I’ve been looking for my place to come out and start. I’ve been doing closed rooms with just me and the camera and I decided to take a leap of faith.”
Fellow poet, entrepreneur, host and Long Islander Na’Quel who attended the event agreed that the vibe BOP Open Mic night provides is one Long Island could use more of.
“I thought the feature was fantastic and the ambiance was really nice, loved the food, it’s a great atmosphere,” said the Central Islip native. “There could always be more arts and more love that comes from the arts and into our communities.”
Brown hopes to continue spotlighting talent on Long Island by helping poets gain exposure and hone in on their skills. This is why Brown is making the BOP Open Mic Night a monthly event, hopefully fostering the next batch of Grammy-winning spoken word artists.
“[I want] to be known as a flagship location for poetry throughout Long Island,” said Brown. “BOP is a major poetry venue for Long Island that will soon be featured on different TV platforms like Netflix and Revolt TV!”