Rasheed Owns the Stage
“Stage Poets” – not to be confused with “Page Poets” - have emerged in the District over the past decade. They have packed out coffee houses, drawn lines of hundreds outside of nightclubs and climbed their way up the DC arts scene as vessels of creativity through words, rhythm and intellect.
Whether you catch them impromptu during open mic nights or rehearsed at competitive slams, these artists maintain a presence that is seen, heard and felt – a combination that cannot be ignored.
I recently got a chance to sit down with Rasheed K. Copeland, who I hold as a legendary moniker of why performance poetry has managed to develop so intensely in DC.
Although Rasheed does not subscribe to any labels in his art, he is often characterized as a “stage poet.” The term “stage poet” – which has a long-standing, negative underlying meaning – refers to a poet who brings his or her written material to the forefront with a poignant dose of soul, to craft performances on stage. On the contrary, a “page poet” – the more traditionally respected of the two– is more demure with his or her presentation, which consists of simple readings of the poet’s work, page by page.
Fortunately, for poets like Rasheed, who are also referred to as “spoken word artists,” their style has been embraced and now trumps the customary expectations of reciting poetry.
The best spoken word artists own the stage with their vernacular, personality and relatability. As such, Rasheed has it all. His stories overcome you. His passion becomes your passion. His struggles become your struggles. He becomes someone so identifiable that you would have thought it was you on stage, if only you had the expertise to pen and perform in such a fashion.
Each time I hear Rasheed, I learn something new – not just about the poet, but about the world around him; the world around me.
Early on, he started writing to distract himself from the pain of a broken heart. After performing his first love-stricken piece, he soon found that nobody really cared about his puppy love as much as he would’ve hoped. So, he dug deeper.
Six years after his first discomfited performance, Rasheed writes about any and everything. He has taken the experiences of a childhood wrought by a drug-addicted mother, that transitioned to an adolescence of cleaning toilets for survival and created a very mature portfolio of pieces unlike any other.
He doesn’t mind sharing his life with others because he’s found that “struggle is communal – it brings people together.”
Although he is a naturally introverted person, he is always appreciative of feedback, even by strangers who stop him in the streets.
“It’s reassuring. It feels good to know that someone is connecting,” he says.
And Rasheed definitely stays connected. At one point, he found himself visiting poetry venues every night. He most commonly frequents “Up and Up” at Liv Night Club and “Spit Dat” at the ECAC, and he has been a featured performer at popular spots like Busboys and Poets.
Rasheed was also on the founding team of “Graffiti DC,” an increasingly notable poetry slam, entering its third season at Liv Night Club, this fall.
Although he is heavily indulged in the culture of spoken word, he never wants to pursue it full-time.
“It’s always been a hobby and release for me. I never want it to become a strain,” he says.
Further, he has to make time for his other interests including playing basketball, church involvement, working out and cooking homemade lasagna, stew, crab cakes and ribs… Chef Rasheed!?
But the man who has always been a “fan of words” will be entering Howard University in the spring to complete a degree in English. Then, he plans to take it back to middle school where he heard his first poem – by Maya Angelou – to become a teacher. He hopes to be an earnest educator, who is invested in the lives of his students – much like how the DC performance poetry scene has become invested in him.
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