It was the summer of 2008, and my junior year at North Carolina A & T was just about to begin. My good friend Victor D. called me so we could do a little post-summer catching up. He invited me to a “little poetry thing” that was taking place near Cone boulevard. When I arrived, I was astonished to see a street littered with cars, and a backyard filled with at least 75 people. Rappers, singers, poets, actors, were all in attendance, using spoken word to share their experiences with me. At the time I had no idea what I had just been apart of. I had just witnessed Mo’Soul.
The concept of the Mo’Soul Poetry festival, derived from an idea by local poet Josephus III and T.I.G ( Sedric Hill). Josephus is a 2001 graduate of North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University and the brainchild behind Reasons2Rhyme, the Triad’s premiere spoken word organization. I formally met Joesphus in January at the opening reception of the 19th Annual Founding Members Invitational Exhibition at the African American Atelier. Recently, I spoke with Josephus to learn more about his artistic background and why his heART is so large.
What motivates you each day to wake up and decide: today I will create?
JosephusIII: Motivation for me comes with each day – with the desires, hopes and dreams I aspire to achieve. I create because it is a part of who I am; it is my outlet for expression.
How long have you lived in Greensboro and what initially brought you here?
I have been in Greensboro since 1998; I transferred from Clark Atlanta University to North Carolina A & T to finish my degree in Industrial Engineering. I completed my degree in 2001.
Why did you decide to stay in Greensboro, as opposed to moving to a larger city, with a larger, more prominent art scene?
That is easy! It is very easy to get lost in the sauce in a bigger city. I have lived in Atlanta and visited LA and New York. They are doing the same things I am doing here. In some instances, we are doing it better here. I had the opportunity to get on the ground floor and build something in Greensboro. I get to be a part of the artistic movement and make an impact using this city as my platform, my launching pad.
What is one thing that you can do in Greensboro, that you cannot do anywhere else?
Attend Reasons2Rhyme Events and sit in front of the A&T 4 Statue
The first Mo’Soul Poetry Festival that I went to was in 2008 in someone’s backyard. I loved it! And the watermelon was great. How did you come up with the idea of a summertime poetry festival? How difficult was it for you to get it up and running?
MoSoul derived from a collaboration between myself and T.I.G ( Sedric Hill). He had expressed an interest in working together and invited me over to his house to discuss some possibilities and fill me in on what he had been workin on so far. He was currently doing an event called Fish Fry Friday’s in which he invited men from the neighborhood over on a Friday night for coversation and fellowship and was interested in adding a poetic element to the event. I told him that whatever we did together needed to be different from anything that was out there and suggested we do an outdoor event and use his backyard. Something that brought people together in a family, down home enviornement. We went over the look and feel of the event, times and potential artists we could ask to perform to help set the vibe. We came up with 10 artists, 5 of which I would choose and 5 of his choice. We would allow each artist to peform in rounds and actually the original set up was a huge circle and artists stepped in the center to perform.
The name for the event actaully came after a lot of thinking about what we wanted people to expect once they got to the event and he has a car that was sitting in his yard. It was actually the first thing I saw when I walked into his yard and across the front winshield was the word MoSoul. So I figured it would be only fitting because it would be the first thing arriving guests would see too.
The backyard event was easy, getting the city invovled was another story, but I wanted the event to be so much bigger than just a performance venue and knew that the artists had so much more they could share with the community, so community centers were an easy tie in because they were full of kids during the summer months, the library was also a good community tie in because of the literary component of poetry and midnight poetry was added for the grown folks to have something exclusive and wide open. Before you knew it we had 2 days and 4 events all tied in and MoSoul had become a festival.
How did you get the alias JosephusIII?
Josephus Thompson III is my full name and all my life I felt like I was the only one and it was so unique. Josephus is the name of a famous historian related to the bible, so the google and internet search would always bring him up first. Then we were both writers so that did not help either. So I needed a way to stand out and paying homage to my father and my grandfather seemed to be perfect. Josephus III, there is only one of those, me. So the III is silent, people just say Josephus, put for marketing and print Josephus III is always used.
How did you discover your passion for writing?
I have always written. In fourth grade, I won a fourth place ribbon for writing. I wrote songs and short poems in middle school, but I did not recognize a passion for it until high school or College. I wrote a poem for a Black History Program in High School that everyone loved and wanted a copy of, but my teacher said I needed to copyright it first, before I started handing out copies. While in Atlanta for college, I attended my first open mic and saw how words could fly off paper and move an audience. My first time on stage with my words was here in Greensboro and it was like a high that I have never come down from.
Out of all your poems , which is your favorite? Do you remember the first poem you wrote ?
My favorite poem changes all the time, I am always in love with new works and the mood I was in when I wrote them. They signify important moments and times in my life. My first real poem was the one in high school for Black History Month, it was called, “The Color”. I have a copy hanging in my house that my parents framed for me.
Outside of writing and performing, what else can you be found doing?
I love to travel internationally, I love working-out running, and lifting weights is something I do on a weekly basis. I can also be found teaching and working with youth, its something else I rather enjoy.
What advice do you have for aspiring writers & poets?
Keep writing, keep dreaming and find a platform to share your work with others. There is something very powerful about sharing your ideas, thoughts and desires with another person.
If you had not chosen to share your gift of writing, what career would you have pursued?
Engineering and consulting would have probably been in my future, something that kept me traveling and seeing new places and meeting new people.
Describe the process of spoken word.
Spoken word is much like a monologue or a one act play. You want to connect to your audience and you are always looking for ways to draw them into your story. You rehearse it a thousand times and there is a lot of trial and error, but once you find what works, you stick to it.
Have you ever held back a poem, for any reason?
Sure, sometimes they are too personal to share or you are just not ready to be that open with your audience. Sharing is hard, truth is hard, people judge you and form their own opinions of what they think you were talking about or who they think you are from your work on stage because its all they know of you. Other times you want to share, but feel like you don’t know the piece well enough to really connect the way you want it to, so you keep practicing it until you think you are ready to put it in front of an audience.
How has Greensboro’s Spoken Word/Poetry scene evolved since you first started?
The art form is constantly evolving, but it definitely has a greater appreciation here, in the city, now because more people have had the chance to experience it – to connect and fall in love with it. There are shows that range from Free – $20 that people will attend and all for their love for the art and the power it has to connect, from libraries, coffee shops, schools and recreation centers, to clubs, colleges and theaters. Even showed a film at the Carosel Movie last year!
What adversities or insecurities have you had to overcome in your pursuit of being a poet?
The financial burden is always one of the most difficult. How does a poet make money? Why do people feel poetry should be free? What are the best avenues to work in or under? It becomes a business and a career, therefore it must be treated as such. Balance is necessary, creatively and monetarily. Marketing, promotion, advertising, venue, times, locations all become part of the equation and writing becomes the easy part. How do you get people to appreciate the art enough to pay for it? How do you show them its worth?
When & Where did you perform your first poem in public? What were your reactions? The crowds reactions?
After High School, my first poem was performed here at a club called Dizzy G’s, it used to be on W. Market and held an open mic night there when I was in college. I felt connected, I was nervous, but excited and I felt like my words were understood and appreciated. I think at the end of the day we all just want to be understood and appreciated.
What do you want to be remembered for? What will be Josephus’ legacy?
My legacy is far from over. I just want my work to touch people lives, make them open their eyes and see things in a different light. I want to inspire and bring people together and that is only the beginning.
This Friday, Josephus & Reason2Rhyme are celebrating the Ladies of the Triad with the final edition of the Poetry Café for the summer. It’s a free event and it gets packed, so get there on time, 8:00pm sharp! Emerald Events Center, 2000 E. Wendover Ave Greensboro, NC