April is National Poetry Month, the perfect time to check in with Dabriel Fulton, a woman who is passionate about the art form. Born in Baltimore and based in New York, Fulton began staging poetry events while attending college and in 2013 launched The Mic Is Open, a traveling poetry platform for emerging artists. Thus far she’s logged events in New York, Baltimore, Atlanta, Detroit and Los Angeles.
The latest event, “Pancakes & Poetry,” takes place this weekend (April 21, 2018) with performances by spoken word poet Olivia Hall, singer Francesca Duncan, singer Kid Lit, poet Derrick Hayes, spoken word poet Kiet Tai Cao and rapper Nadirah Shakur. Fulton herself will also step up to the mic for the first time in a long time.
“Pancakes & Poetry” takes place at 38 West 39th Street, 3rd floor from 12:00 PM to 3:00 PM EST. Visit micisopen.com for more info.
Check out our exchange with Fulton below.
Snobette: Hi Dabriel, so where are you from and where were you raised?
Fulton: “I was born and raised Baltimore as well. ‘I’m hardly home but always repping.’ Lol, it’s a lyric in my head.” [via Drake’s 2009 “Uptown” single.]
Snobette: What did Baltimore give you?
Dabriel: “There are so many things that make me who I am. Baltimore gave me a sense of self. My main thing is being true to myself.”
Snobette: What are some of your early memories as a writer or a creative that connect to what you’re doing now?
Dabriel: “Growing up I was an introvert. I think i still am but people don’t know that about me. I’m shy but adjust to my surrounds like a chameleon. Growing up I wrote a lot. I was the awkward girl with the freckles. When I started taking writing courses at Towson Catholic High School that’s where I got a sense of of who I wanted to be. And even before then in middle school I was involved in writing school plays.”
Snobette: When did you host your first poetry event?
Dabriel: My first event was in 2011. I formed the Blacks and Latino Association at my college just to create a platform for people to express themselves and from that I was able to start doing poetry showcases. By 2013, the events got big enough that the Bowery Poetry Club reached out to me about hosting weekly showcases. It wasn’t the best deal, an 80/20 split, but I was excited to do it. The plus is that one of the shows was included on MTV’s “Washington Heights” [reality] show because there was a cast members who attended the event.
Snobette: When was your last event with Bowery Poetry Club?
Dabriel: “I talked to my mother about it. She said to believe in myself more and pointed out I was bringing everyone to them. In 2013 I began my search search for the perfect location to hold my own showcase, and I eventually found a gallery. I had already launched my own company a year before.”
Snobette: Why did you launch your own own company?
Dabriel: “I knew when I graduated and started looking for jobs that I was either under-qualified or over-qualified and decided to create my own position. At the time I was author Susan Shapiro Barash’s executive assistant and she made me realize I could do this on my own. I was blessed to have the support of my mother and grandmother to do that. Once I realized I could do it on my own, I went from ‘wait a second’ to ‘it’s on!'”
Snobette: I remember going to poetry readings in New York in the ’90s and Love Jones in ’97 was kind of an exclamation point on the movement. Is poetry cycling back as a movement?
Fulton: Poetry has been big for a while, but people now are being more open about it. Before it was a smaller community where people would go to express themselves. Though remember there was Def Poetry Jam [from 2002-2007 on HBO] and that was televised. I’d like to see poetry televised again. It’s still all word of mouth.
Snobette: How has the internet hurt or helped interest in poetry?
Fulton: “I guess it’s helped because there are hash tags now, which bring people to what they’re looking for. There’s #poetry and #slampoetry is for poets competing for money and titles.
Snobette: Oh wow, there’s big money in poetry. I didn’t realize that!
Fulton: There are so many, some showcases award up to $100,000 or two-to-four year scholarships.
Snobette: What are some of the bigger themes emerging from your events?
Fulton: “Right now, a lot of people are touching base on race. It can be a lot because I have a diverse crowd and I don’t want people to feel too uncomfortable. People talk about race, heartbreak, being millennials, entrepreneurs. I don’t give topics but I do screen before they perform because you run the risk of having performers just rapping from beginning to end.”
Snobette: How do you manage all of the logistics that go into the event? In particular events outside of New York?
Fulton: “I handle all of the logistics by myself. My mom comes to every show and works the door with either Chris or Jenarri, my best friends. It’s the same team of four people.”
Snobette: Do you reach out to creatives to participate?
Fulton: “Now I’m at a point I don’t have to but before I had to find people. I would be campaigning outside of universities and look for musicians and artists. I do still go searching. I want my showcase to be the best. I think one of the reasons I’ve lasted so long is that people can feel the approach is authentic and real and it’s not a gimmick.”
Snobette: Who would be your dream line up of poets/musicians?
Fulton: Oh my goodness, Drake is my spirit animal, we’re both some emo Scorpians lol. If he could just come that would be great. I like Mary J. Blige a lot. I went to see her, I have her book. Those are my two people. It would also want Lauryn Hill, but I’m a stickler for being on time and she would be three hours late lol. My fourth person would be Adele.”
Snobette: Can people still buy tickets to the New York event?
Fulton: “Yes, at the door. Everything online is sold out. I try to leave room for people at the door because not everyone has a credit card.”
Snobette: What’s next for you?
Fulton: “I’m going to take a break because planning a memorable event is taxing; there’s a lot that goes into it! I have to book the venue, the DJ, security, the photographer; then I have to purchase a liquor license, liability insurance and so much more. I say all of that to say the next showcase will take place in Los Angeles in July.”
Snobette: You’ve done the showcase in a lot of different cities. Do you have a favorite?
Fulton: New York is home, the energy, the people, the support. New York always show up and show out.”