Written by Brittany Shawnté
A few weeks back, I got an email to check out some clips from a show on TV One called Verses and Flow, engineered by Lexus. I remember vaguely hearing about it and seeing a preview a while ago, but never really sat down and watched. Man, was I missing out! Hosted by actor and poet Omari Hardwick, the show features some of the best spoken word artists in the country, as they discuss real issues from love, self-esteem, current events, racial relations and more! It was very impressive to watch, and now I’ve made it a part of my Wednesday nights (the show comes on Wednesdays at 9 p.m. ET on TV One…check your local listings!).
I got the opportunity to chat with poet Prentice Powell, who has performed on every season of Verses and Flow, both individually and with his poetry collective Fiveology! To say that he is an amazing and talented poet is a complete understatement, and, for those who have seen and heard his work, you know why. For those who haven’t, you’ll see what I mean right now!
Hailing from Oakland and Union City, California, Prentice first pursued his career in poetry after an impromptu performance at the Oakland Slam in 2003, where he was signed up without him knowing after he wrote his first poem after a break up. He was called back to speak again for the Slam Team, and wrote new poems every week to compete. He ended up placing 4th in the nation at the National Finals, only two months later! “From there, it was kind of something that I said, “I don’t think this happened for no reason,” he said. He continued to write, finding a true release in poetry, calling it “extremely therapeutic.” Over the years, he has won several awards with his thought-provoking work, including becoming the 2006 Oakland and S.F. Grand Slam champion, as well as the 2007 Spoken Word Artist of the Year at the Black Music Awards. He was also named the East Bay Express, Best Poet, in 2010.
Prentice stated that his journey in poetry has been inspired by several of his peers, including his own poetry collective, Fiveology. “[Shawn Williams, one of the group’s members] was there the first time I got on stage and did a poem. I was competing against him,” the poet recalled. He also counted poets Amir Sulaimain, Scorpio Blues, and Andrew Tyree as poets that he looks up to. “One thing that Andrew does that I think is really, really dope,” Prentice said, “is that he has this ability to hop out of his poem in the middle of his poem and be completely random, or relevant and just talk to the audience and hop right back into his poem, and never miss a beat. That was one of the first things I purposely started trying to do as an artist.”
As previously stated, Prentice has performed on every season of Verses and Flow, and considers it a great opportunity to be a part of. “I think it’s unlike anything that’s on television,” Prentice stated. “I think we complain about not having enough content, not having enough positive representation, or different representation. The beauty of Verses and Flow is that nothing is the same.” It’s very true! Real issues are discussed, and different cultures are represented on the show, and it’s great to watch! “Lexus was supportive enough and believed enough in the voices that we have to support it and put it on a national platform, and I think people are being exposed to something new,” Prentice added. “The biggest blessing is that every episode I get to sit down with my sons and daughter, and they get to watch their daddy on TV. So many other kids and people can be touched through this show. You kind of can’t help but support something like that.”
One of the very first full clips I saw of the show was one of Prentice’s from this season, a powerful performance of his thought-provoking piece, “The System.” It reflects “The System” that holds so many, especially the African-American culture, in its hands. One day, Prentice randomly thought that if “the System,” could talk, what would it say? The poet incorporated a monotone voice, as well as robotic dance movement to add to the piece. “I’m a huge dance fanatic. I learned at a really young age with my three best friends that if you can dance, the girls like you,” he joked about coming up with the movement. In fact, he often checks out dance videos to watch different choreography! Inspired by internationally known production team Yak Films, Prentice decided to use robotic movement to showcase his love of dance. “Right before I went on to film, I went in the bathroom and practiced for like 45 minutes, because I really wanted it to be good. And I just came out and kind of did what I felt like doing.” He wanted to do something different with the piece, even covering his eyes with his hat to show The System as a generic voice, instead of a person. Trust me when I say, he pulled it off! Check out Prentice’s performance of “The System” below!
Prentice is also one fifth of poetry collective Fiveology, who have performed on the show several times as well. He, along with members Javon Johnson, Rudy Francisco, Shawn William and Andrew Tyree, has definitely made a mark in the poetry realm and beyond! The group first linked up when they were all out in Vegas within a two month period at a venue in Vegas. Prentice jokingly suggest doing a show together on Twitter, but the men ended up seriously talking about performing together offline. “They came down to my house, and we wrote a couple of poems together,” the artist recalled. Their first show was actually a year ago performing first as the “Blackson Five” “That night, specifically in Oakland, was so powerful for all of us. We thought it was going to be just us doing poems but it became so much more than that.” he reflected. “After that, we kind of just continued to stay in contact, drive down to L.A., and practice. Less than a year later, we’re on tour with Jill Scott, [and] performing at the Essence Festival.” He also acknowledged Lexus and Verses and Flow for their support as well. “Lexus and Verses and Flow really provided a spark for us by putting us on the show, because they never really had anyone collectively on the show, and they really supported and pushed us.” the poet added. The group is incredibly talented, and speak with such authority and honesty, that its no surprise that they have been so successful in such a short period of time! Check out one of their performances on Verses and Flow below!
Prentice has been blessed to travel the world performing his poetry, and his craft has allowed him branch off into different directions, including education. He’s done poetry in classrooms for kids, and has also branched out into developing a creative writing curriculum, focusing on African-American youth. He currently works with autistic children with severe behavioral disorders. Prentice would eventually like to see his career hit Broadway. “We have a 90 minute show that we’re doing right now,” Prentice said, which could do very well in NY. “We have a residency at the Ebony Repertory Theatre in L.A. It’s called Inner Man/Outer Space [the show touches on their experiences as black men, individually and collectively]. But honestly, wherever God takes me. I can’t really imagine what God could have in store for me at this point, and in store for us. But I definitely won’t say no!” he laughed.
Prentice is honestly blown away by the success of his and Fiveology’s work, which he merely sees as something he does for himself. To be able to travel all over, beyond just poetry slams, coffee houses, and contests, and reach people is an incredible feeling! “I never saw what we just did this summer happening,” he admitted. “To be able to touch people the way that I have, we have as a collective, the way Verses and Flow has? There is no glass ceiling to what we do and that’s really what this summer taught me. And if people thought there was, it’s just been shattered.”