Soul Sessions vibe with poetry and music

by Shawn Nowlin

Bryan Hancock, left, (aka Harvest Blague) with famed poet Nikki Giovanni.

An argument can be made that poetry is one of the most powerful forms of expression that connects people from all walks of life. Someone who regularly makes that argument is Bryan Hancock. The musician, who performs under the stage name Harvest Blague, was introduced to poetry at a very early age. Once he started using words to convey his feelings, he never stopped.

“I grew up in a house filled with music. That led to a genuine love of storytelling through poetry and music. Both taught me how to read and I gravitated to the culture naturally,” Hancock, 42, said. “My aunt gave me my first journal when I was nine. I often wrote in it, documenting all the highs and lows in life. Writing became an outlet of healing, and it is something that I still do very much to this day.”  

Outside of his family, Hancock cites James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Lauryn Hill, Toni Morrison, and A Tribe Called Quest as some of his biggest inspirations.

For almost nine years, Soul Sessions Roanoke has been an inclusive hub for creatives to gather and vibe through original works of spoken word poetry, music, and creative writing. Created by Hancock, the rest of the Soul Sessions team consists of Adria Cintron, VP Chair; Mikele Bowling, tech content creator; Brenda Mcguire, promotional support and Jason Turner, graphic designer.

Located at 511 Jefferson Street, Soul Sessions meets every Wednesday at Ursula’s Café around 7 p.m. Considered the backbone of Roanoke’s poetry scene, the program provides a platform for the often unseen to have their voices heard.

“We offer a diverse community-based show that explores what it’s like to walk in someone else’s shoes. We’re proud of our programming which has had national touring talents, regional artists, and novice beginners all drop in and be supportive of one another,” Hancock said. “I feel as empathy is unfolding right in front of my eyes that people are building lifelong connections while identifying and uplifting each other.”

Through the Year of the Artist Program with assistance from Douglas Jackson and the Art Commission, Soul Sessions was able to join forces with Roanoke City to bring the national youth laureate program to the Star City. Additionally, Soul Sessions will soon be collaborating with Opera Roanoke to push the boundaries between artistic mediums.

“We see the need for youth empowerment through the arts,” said Hancock. “The National Youth Poet Laureate Program brought the amazing Amanda Gorman to the White House steps telling her hopes and dreams through creative writing. Words are powerful and we’ve seen the impact that our programming has had in the community and beyond.”

Created in 1985, for the last 37 years, Oct. 17 has been recognized as Black Poetry Day. The day also commemorates the birth of Jupiter Hammon, the father of African American literature, who was the first Black-published poet in America. Such history is what Hancock often explains when he is teaching a class or hosting a seminar. “It is important that we build an all-inclusive Roanoke that is open to more solutions and making sure that equity is at the forefront beyond words,” he said.

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