Douglas Powell admits to his split personality.
“Artistically, I’m Roscoe Burnems,” says the celebrated poet. It was a name that stuck in his earliest days of poetry slams and open mics, he adds. “I thought it sounded good to have this whole other moniker, this cool stage name. I don’t know if I feel that way at 36, but I’ve been using it so long that it’s like I’ll be Roscoe Burnems forever.”
Powell discovered his love for poetry at Henrico High, where an 11th grade teacher encouraged him to find his voice through verse. “It led me to finding a community of writers to share poetry and writing,” he says. That community was fueled by the long-running Tuesday Verses open-mic series, where he honed his art. Since 2009, Powell has ranked highly in national tournaments multiple times, and, performing with the DC Beltway team, was named the National Poetry Slam champion in 2014.
He started Writer’s Den the same year, a team of scribes that participates in competitions, organizes area open mics, and offers writing workshops for kids and adults. “We’ve grown into a full art collective of approximately 10 people ... visual artists, singers, comedians, bloggers, songwriters.” The Den, which hosts a monthly slam every first Sunday at Addis restaurant in Shockoe Bottom, partners with Richmond Public Schools to sponsor a youth poetry tournament in April at the Visual Arts Center. In October, will host the national Food For Thought event at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, bringing in international poets for a series of performances and workshops. Most recently, he and his spoken word collaborators were seen in a TV pilot and a series of digital shorts, “Verses,” for VPM [Disclosure: VPM owns Style Weekly].
A proud father of three, Powell was appointed Richmond’s inaugural poet laureate in 2021 by Mayor Levar Stoney, who told “Roscoe” in a video tribute: “You’ve stepped into uncharted territory and created a safe space for poets and creatives in our city, from creating slam poetry fests at RPS and participating in an RVA Youth Ted Talk to leading the VCU poetry slam team to be ranked #3 in the world.”
“It was an honor because there’s so many talented writers in the city,” Powell says of his two-year tenure as the first poet laureate. “I dedicated my time to arts and education, and we were able to accomplish all the things I set out to do, including If These Walls Could Talk, in partnership with the Mending Walls mural project. We added a poetry component to that. We selected 11 murals and myself and ten other poets wrote poems to give the art a voice. It’s a unique perspective, interacting with the art in a different way.”