At a culminating reading event at the Anacostia Public Library on May 7, Brandon Douglas was crowned the 2023 D.C. Poet Project winner. Past winners include Dominic McDonald, Susan Meehan, John Johnson, and Jenn Koiter. The D.C. Poet Project is an annual open-to-all poetry competition that culminates in the awarding of a book contract. One finalist was selected from each of the preliminary-round poetry reading events held earlier this spring. Douglas read his poetry alongside fellow finalists Tracye Funn, Cody Bock, and Chris Biles, prior to the audience vote to select the winner.
Douglas has been involved in poetry in the District for more than a decade, including work as a poet educator and past participation on one of DC’s youth slam teams. He began writing raps in middle school and later melded poetry and hip hop into spoken word compositions. As the winner of the 2023 D.C. Poet Project, Douglas will receive a $1,000 book contract from Day Eight, which will publish a collection of his poetry.
Day Eight conducted an interview with the 2023 Poet Project winner to learn more about his inspirations, and the forthcoming collection.
DE: Congratulations on winning the 2023 D.C. Poet Project! How did you start writing?
Brandon Douglas: I was in a community service program because I was on probation. There was a project that we were asked to do in conjunction with a trip that I wasn’t able to attend. They still wanted me to do the project and I jokingly proposed doing a rap. They took me seriously and I accepted the challenge. I liked the process, and discovered that I was actually pretty good at it.
DE: Did you always think of poetry and hip hop as connected?
Brandon Douglas: My understanding of them shifted. Hip hop, until that point in my life, was bravado, chest beating, surface level trash talking. Poetry was obscure, random, academic. Something in me shifted when I gave myself time to hear the stories being told in the songs I’d listened to as well as the emotions being conveyed but not necessarily detailed. The poetic devices started to make sense in real time. The imagery, metaphors, etc. not only showed up in the music, but in how I lived and what I witnessed. Using the cadences and energy of hip hop as literary devices has always felt natural
DE: What inspires you to write?
Brandon Douglas: Life is the short answer. I’ve seen and experienced so much. My desire to be understood also keeps me writing. I want my thoughts, emotions, and experiences to be understood so others can be inspired or benefit from the wisdom, and so they can learn from my shortcomings.
DE: Are there writers that particular inspire you, or that you see as models?
Brandon Douglas: Rasheed Copeland. He has a beautiful way of seeing and conveying the wholeness of the moments he captures in his poetry. Saul Williams. His energy is unique and infectious in a way that makes me enjoy experiencing his work. 13 of Nazareth. His writing doesn’t require anything extra to feel the fullness of his message. Last (that I’ll share in this moment) is Andre 3000. I appreciate how he challenges himself to be better at his craft without sacrificing vulnerability. The things I admire in these folks are some of the things that I try to emulate in my work.
DE: Is there a message or feeling you hope people take from your work?
Brandon Douglas: I want to encourage people to do the things, artistic or otherwise, that they want to do to create the world that they desire. Our utopias can coexist if we put the work in to understand each other.
Poets featured in the 2023 DC Poet Project reading series, who also served as judges selecting the finalists, were: Anne Becker, Bernardine Watson, Shaquetta Nelson, Sarah Katz, Christopher Heuer, Ethelbert Miller, Jenn Koiter, Taylor Johnson, Rebecca Bishophall, Dwayne Lawson-Brown, Dominic McDonald, Regie Cabico, Sunu Chandy, and Ishanee Chanda. A guest judge participated in each preliminary round event along with the featured poets and those guest judges were Kelli Shewmaker, Katie Lee, Philip Pannell, and Brenda Richardson. The 2023 Poet Project reading series was hosted by Aaron Holmes, curated by Regie Cabico, and funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities.