Nathan’s Underground Music Spotlight: Poet/Spoken Word Artist Chris Bernstorf


Chris Bernstorf is a hardcore spoken word/poetry artist from the Ashburn, Virginia area.  Bernstorf has toured around the nation with various Christian bands.  Chris has released two CD entitled “Yellow” and “Move”.”

This week, in honor of April being National Poetry Month, I had the chance to interview Chris about his life as a hardcore poet.

Nathan: Tell us a little about what you do?

Chris: I do poetry.  I write my own original poems and then I perform them wherever I get the chance, from coffee shops to living rooms to (most often) rock, metal, and hardcore concerts. 

For me, performing poetry is a little bit different than what most people would expect–my whole body, my environment, and my audience all become fully involved.  I walk, run, crawl, climb, jump, stage-dive, shout, scream, sing (poorly), and whisper and encourage my audience to participate fully, from crowd-surfing and pile-ons to speaking along and singing.

N: What got you into hardcore poetry?

C: Getting into the style of poetry I do (I call it hardcore–people can call it whatever you want!), was a totally Holy Spirit thing. 

I was given a wireless microphone to use at one of my early shows, and, during the last poem, all of a sudden, I was just walking around out in the crowd, and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world.  I was so wrapped up in how cool it was that I totally forgot where I was in the poem. This sort of blanking out has happened to me numerous times, but, looking back on it, the Lord’s shown me how different this was–I couldn’t recover and find my spot like I usually can.  He helped me get through it, but, looking back, I’ve realized it was God showing me what I was going to do with poetry in the future, giving me just a taste of the awesome things He had in store for me.  I’ve been walking and running around with all my heart ever since.

N: Before doing spoken word, did you have any other bands/project?

C. Negative haha.  I had many dreams and had a silly fun little verse to a song written on acoustic guitar but nothing substantial was going on really.  Just me and Jesus and writing poems for a long time and doing nothing with them but reading them alone and showing them to people occasionally until He gave me this.

N: How id you get into the music industry?

C: I just started playing shows.  God blessed me to find some shows and venues and stuff on Facebook, and I started sending emails. 

My first official real spoken word show I booked myself at a local coffee shop where I went to college, and then I just kept Facebook- and MySpace-creeping (yep, MySpace was still sort of a thing back then lol) and flier-reading and music-website-reading and looking for where shows happened and where people and bands I liked played and then I just kept asking, emailing, looking, trying, and God really just opened up some outrageously awesome doors for me–stuff I literally could have never done on my own. 

I got booked to open for John Reuben and a great band called the Homecoming as like maybe somewhere between my third and fifth show without the venue owners ever hearing anything I did–I didn’t even had anything recorded then.  They were just like “Oh you sound like Bradley Hathaway–cool. Let’s do it. You’re on.” God just did SO. MUCH. It was (and still is) ALL HIM and just SO FREAKING COOL. Haha I was so excited for that show, I can’t even explain it.)  And God’s just continued to build this in His perfect timing, exactly how He sees fit, and I’ve just been trying to stay patient, faithful, and obedient because His plan has ALWAYS, 110% of the time turned out WAY WAY WAY INFINITELY better than I could have ever even begun to imagine. 

It’s been such a blessing to continue to see Him grow this and whatever role in the music industry/art world I may have.

N: Who inspires you?

C: God/Jesus/The Holy Spirit.  My parents.  SO much of who I am, what I do, what I know, and what I believe and drives me comes from them, their love and example and patience and wisdom and kindness and support. 

Poetry-wise, there’s WAY too many to name, but some of the big ones from the spoken word side of the world include Bradley Hathaway (he’s the whole reason I started doing this), Levi the Poet, Eric Darby, Dan Smith/Listener, Taylor Mali, Anis Mojgani, David Bowden, and Propaganda

Page-poets include Sascha Feinstein, Yusef Komunyakaa, Billy Collins, Pablo Neruda, Matthew Dickman, Frank O’hara, Shanna Wheeler, and a ton more.  We don’t all share all the same beliefs, styles, upbringings, interests, performance venues, or anything at all, but God has used all of them really powerfully in my life. 

Bands are again, WAY WAY WAY too many to name, but major ones would be Relient K (some of the first really great lyricism I ever heard in my life and indescribably important to my faith’s development and my life/personal growth), The Chariot (if I could be any band as a poet, it’d be the Chariot, without question), My Epic, For Today, Sleeping Giant, Stellar Kart, Eleventyseven, Beautiful Eulogy, Hands, Good Luck Varsity, Twenty-One Pilots, Propaganda (again lol), My Maker and I, Listener, Mouth of the South, From the Eyes of Servants, Conveyer, The Ember Days, Ascend the Hill, White Collar Sideshow, The Great Transparency, Preson Phillips, Come&Live! bands in general, Humble Beast rappers/artists in general, Close Your Eyes, As Cities Burn, Gideon, Gideon, Gideon haha, and there’s tons more–those are just some that come to mind off of the top of my head that have super encouraged/inspired me and that I’m just currently jamming and being blessed by, and they change virtually constantly. 

Really, just anything that reps Jesus and/or gives me the feels and/or is creative.

N: What do you write about?

C: Jesus. Life. People.  I just seek to worship my King and spread and share His Love, Hope, Redemption, and the Life and Life Abundantly He promises to give us here on this Earth and the Eternal Life He promises us in Heaven through His Blood and Resurrection.  I seek to be as real, honest, raw, and truthful as I can be.  So I think there’s something for everyone in it.  Like my Savior Jesus, it is for everyone for free.

N: What have been some your favorite bands you’ve been able to play with?

C: Praise Jesus, I can say that I’ve been blessed to play with some of my very favorite bands ever.  Some of the coolest would have to be opening for For Today, Sleeping Giant, Impending Doom, Texas in July, and Hundredth all at one show, opening for the Chariot’s break-up tour stop in Maryland, and then really honestly any show I can play with friends is just SUCH a blessing. 

I love meeting new people, and I love going new places, but there’s just something special for me when I get to play with friends and bands that I know–so that’s still a pretty darn long list, but some of my favorite dudes to talk about are in a band called Blood of the Martyrs.  I’ve been blessed to play with those guys literally over 30 times.  I’ve done merch for them; they’ve done merch for me.  We’ve stayed at each other’s houses.  We’ve talked about really deep stuff and shared a lot of our lives.  We’ve laughed together and worried together and slept on floors together, and I just really appreciate those dudes.  They’ve taught me a TON about how to be a touring performer and have really just been like my number 1 fans in their attitude towards me since the very first day they met me and have gone above and beyond anything I could have ever dreamt in supporting me.  They’ve been SUCH a blessing to me. 

I feel like a jerk because now there’s a million bands I want to name, and I know I’m going to forget a ton of them, but here’s some others I really adore getting to play with:  Armory Infirmary, Fall of Goliath, Household, Servants, In Search of Reason, ANN Perkins, Burdened Hearts, My Ransomed Soul, The Mountains and the Sea, Curios, Andrew the Poet, Tirades of a Timid Tongue, Kept on Hold, and tons more.

N: What is your favorite moment from a show?

C: Any show I get to play where people get crazy for singing “This Little Light of Mine” at the beginning of my poem “Light”–seriously, praise Jesus, people have done everything from crowd surf to pile-on and scream and it’s just beautiful to do that together with other people. 

Going along with that, seriously just any show where people say my words with me (or even just listen intently)–it’s an incredible and just unreal and humbling feeling.  And even beyond that, I can get caught up in performing and distracted by all sorts of worldy things sometimes and worry about all the wrong things (from finances to how people are perceiving me), but really the most special of the most special moments of shows to me are when something I say–either a poem or from my testimony or just talking–impacts someone and encourages them in some way, whether it’s making them smile or making them open up to Christ. 

For me, this is about Jesus and people, and, when people get encouraged, that’s Jesus hitting a homerun through me, and I am just SO FREAKING GRATEFUL and humbled.  My whole life, God’s blessed me to be encouraged by SO. MANY. people from my parents to church leaders to coaches and teachers to bands and artists and speakers and writers and my bosses to you name it, and to be that for someone else is a gift and a blessing and an honor beyond description.  To get to help someone, encourage them, bless them somehow, give them something, say something that encourages them, pray with/for them, anything, is just so freaking meaningful. ALL JESUS.

N: What are some of your favorite venues to play in?

C: I seriously love every where God’s blessed me to play.  Anywhere I know people is special to me.  Some of those places are Maryland, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Michigan, Florida, Minnesota, North Dakota, Illinois, and Indiana, just to name a few places as generally as possible lol.

A huge thank you to Chris Bernstorf for this amazing interview.  With so much accomplished in to little time, Chris Bernstorf will definitely succeed in the future.