Josephus Thompson III directs ‘Poet for a Day’ workshop at Greensboro Cultural Center

Josephus Thompson III directs ‘Poet for a Day’ workshop at Greensboro Cultural Center
November 02
14:38 2023

By Felecia Piggott-Long, Ph.D.

More than 300 students picked up a small notebook and a pencil when they walked into the Van Dyke Performance Space of the Greensboro Cultural Center on Thursday, Oct. 5. The poet on stage stands over six feet tall, and his t-shirt reads, “Poetry is Life. You are at the Poetry Café. We feed your mind, body, and soul.” 

Groovin’ to the tunes of a live band on stage, these students listened to poetry, sang together, clapped together, and made rhythm. “Make some noise for the band!” JosephusThompson yells.

Kionah Brown, drama teacher at Carver High School, and I took seven students from the Drama Club and the Poetry Club to the gathering for exposure and training. The students from Carver included Alexander Chamness, Jaydan Gause Hughes, Judah Daniels, Payton Williams, Razalea Reaves, and Christian Perez-Avila. Joseph Anderson served as a chaperone on the bus. As an English teacher, I was excited about the opportunity for my students to learn new ways to deliver creative messages. The drama instructor was eager to bring this experience to the theatre arts students to enhance their skills.

“I am so glad that we came to this workshop. This is the first field trip we have been able to attend since COVID-19 came on the scene,” said Brown. “I am so glad that the students were able to come to the Greensboro Cultural Center to learn from the Poet Laureate of Greensboro and to participate in a cypher with their peers.”

English teacher Qiana Daniels was pleased that her son and other students from Carver High School were able to attend the workshop. “I met Josephus Thompson during a workshop on spoken-word poetry for the residency program for teachers. It was held at High Point College. It was exceptional,” said Daniels.

Senior Razalea Reaves is a quiet but assertive student in my English class. Although she chose not to share her poem in front of 300 people, she shared her poem on the bus with us. The poem was called “The Power of Words.”

“Day by day / Each day just feels the same. / Time passing by, / On the hour it lies. / So many thoughts running through my brain, / Sometimes it just feels like I may go insane. / There’s so many things I want to say. / But I guess I’ll just keep it at bay. / Thoughts going through my mind, / Like a merry-go-round. I just hope one day I can say what I want to say, / And not feel like it will be in vain. / Because I may not be able to keep it at bay. /But until that day, I won’t see the rain.”

From 9 a.m.. until 11 a.m. the students participated in the “Poetry is Life” workshop where they learned to identify and create alliteration, to practice critical thinking, to answer pop questions about mathematics, geography, figurative language, and character development. Afterwards, the teachers served hot dogs in the park for the students and the students returned to participate in a cypher. 

Thompson started the workshop by getting the students to define poetry. He then followed with a poem he wrote about poetry: “This art form came way before hip hop. / It sings songs. / This thing flows through pipes. / Won’t stop for red lights. / Pay me for this. / Simply is poetry. . .”

This poem about poetry is followed by several fill-in-the-blank questions about content, form,  alliteration, imagery, symbolism, and rhyme. Students came up in groups to respond to the questions. As a result, they won posters and other prizes for their independent thought.

The director of the Poetry Project is Josephus Thompson III, the first poet laureate of Greensboro. He is a full-time poet who hosts the Poetry Café in Greensboro for college students and other adults on the weekends and teaches workshops for students in grades K-12. He brings the Poetry Café into schools and auditoriums to show students how to engage in open-mic, spoken-word poetry performance.

Thompson, 46, describes himself as a military brat who was born in Germany and has lived in Italy, Oklahoma, Alabama, Tennessee, and now North Carolina. He started writing poetry in middle school, and he won fourth place in a poetry competition. He continued to write even after he graduated from 71st Senior High School in Fayetteville.. He then went to Clarke-Atlanta University and transferred to North Carolina A & T State University in 1998, where he majored in industrial engineering.

When Thompson graduated from North Carolina A & T State University, he applied for 100 jobs and continued to do poetry part-time. He also worked for UPS part-time. By May of 2010, Thompson had relocated to Australia where he began teaching poetry. He continued to engineer his own life.

“From my degree, I learned growth – my education is not wasted. College is for expanding who you are. Life is a journey, a place where you can expand your horizon, find out who you are, and build a space for yourself,” Thompson said. “I looked for the place to return to my degree. It does not exist. I am a full-time poet. I decided to use my skills and turn them into a business. I have been doing this for 15 years.

 “Yesterday, I served more than 300 students, and 300 today adds up to 600. It was a success. The energy! Looking at 300 kids during a two-hour set with poetry has been a success. At first, they did not want to come,” said Thompson. “But the way we deliver the lessons, the way we energize the theatrical space with live music makes it a conversation – seeable, touchable – reality.

 “The classroom has not changed much. The classroom is designed to create industry workers – this is no place to teach a young person. The ones who see the change include hip-hop, music, art, like the Ron Clark Academy in Atlanta,” said Thompson.

During the cypher, 30 students put their names in the box if they had a poem, song, or reading to share with the audience. Many of them brought their small notebooks from the chairs they sat in. They snapped and applauded one another. The energy was constant.

Brazil performed a poem called “You Do You,” a verse about the importance of self-expression. Caleb steps to the mic and performs a poem about weather changes and climate checks, but he ends it with his desire to be mayor one day. Gabriel spits a vibe that states “Poetry is way cool!” Honesty steps to the mic followed by Diamond. 

I decided to share my tribute to Dr. Martin-Luther King, Jr.:

“There was a young brother, and he had a dream. And this man’s name was Martin Luther King. / He was a minister, he had a goal, / He worked toward it mind, body and soul! /He wanted to reach the promised land, / With the staff of non-violence in his hand. / He wanted an integrated society. / He wanted freedom, and justice, and equality. / He had a vision . . .” I said. All of the students clapped with me and Caleb stepped up to me at the end of the show and said, “Grandma, that was fire!” I felt so empowered, like a sage. 

We all learned something important about ourselves thanks to Josephus Thompson, Miranda Polk, singer and usher, his amazing band, and the other assistants on stage.

About Author

WS Chronicle

WS Chronicle

Related Articles


Featured Sponsor

Receive Chronicle Updates

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.



More Sponsors