As a teen, Amena Brown listened to hip-hop and dreamed of being the next Lauryn Hill; she even had a stage name, "Teknique." But she never could quite make her rhymes mesh with the beat and the bars of the music, so she turned to spoken word poetry instead. Maybe she couldn't emcee, but when she took the stage for a poetry slam, Amena Brown was the bomb.
Today, her inspiring presentations are highly sought by churches and conferences (Catalyst, RightNow, Thirsty, and the National Youth Workers Convention, to name a few). In faith-based settings, Brown recites one- to four-minute poems with titles such as "Resurrection," "He Is Here," "Masterpiece," and "In the Beginning." In the secular setting of an open-mic poetry slam—often in Atlanta, where she lives—she'll perform rhymes like "First Crush," "Stupid Girl," and "A Few Good Men." All are delivered with passion, precision, and lively wordplay.
Brown believes the church is catching on to spoken word poetry. "More people are seeing how the spoken word form can articulate a message or make a point in a different way from a speaker or a song. And there are more poets performing God-ward content."
Question & Answer
You majored in English at Spelman College, right?
Yes. At first I thought about becoming a preacher. But I got into poetry, and wanted to get my MFA in poetry. I was denied at all three schools I applied to. At first I was angry at God, but then I started doing more with spoken word. It wasn't my plan, but it definitely was God's.
Why spoken word poems?
For a long time, I didn't want to perform my own poems. I would enter speech competitions, memorizing things by Maya Angelou or James Weldon Johnson, but I never won. My mom thought I should perform my own poems, but I didn't want to. She took one of my pieces and entered it into an NAACP poetry competition without telling me. I ended up winning, and had to go there and read it in front of them—and it was the most exhilarating experience. I was about 16 or 17, and it dawned on me that this is a gift from God that people want to hear. I've been performing my own work ever since she pulled that prank on me!
What makes spoken word poetry so effective?
It's on the line between what we love about hearing a person speak and what we love about music. It incorporates rhyme and rhythm, but also the passion of whoever is doing the work—a dramatic interpretation of the written word. I've seen it transcend culture and generation, and anybody can engage with it.
What's next for you?
I'm working on a poet and DJ presentation of some of the more worshipful pieces I've done. And I'm working on a CD, putting those same pieces to [background] music. I see myself doing this work for a while. My calling is writing and talking, and I feel that if I am doing that in a way that honors God for the rest of my life, then great.
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See more at AmenaBrown.com.
Previous "Who's Next" sections featured David Cunningham, Timothy Dalrymple, John Sowers, Alissa Wilkinson, Jamie Tworkowski, Bryan Jennings, L. L. Barkat, Robert Gelinas, Nicole Baker Fulgham, Gideon Strauss, W. David O. Taylor, Crystal Renaud, Eve Nunez, Adam Taylor, Matthew Lee Anderson, Margaret Feinberg, and Jonathan Merritt.
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