'I Choose Birmingham'
A Poem by Casey Bailey
I’m sitting in Saqib’s on Lozells Road
With two brothers I’ve known since
Playgrounds, Pogs and Pokemon cards.
When the bus rumbles past I think
About the routes of this city
I think about my roots in this city
I choose Birmingham because
The shadow of Thames Tower in
Bloomsbury Park held me
When no person would, wrapped
Me like a gift and let me open
Myself when I was ready for it
I choose Birmingham like the kid
Who never throws the wrapping paper
Away, I could never even think it
When the canals hold star dust
Whilst Highbury park holds peace
And Handsworth Park plays steel pans
I choose Birmingham for as long as
Burbury Park holds my brother’s spirit
They will never blank him out
Not while spit, sits in this mouth
Not while blood ricochets through
These vessels. He lives in me.
I choose Birmingham and if she
She would choose me too then
This might just be something, you know
I might even ignore the man dem
In the group chat for a minute, not
Forever, but long enough for her to know.
Casey Bailey is Birmingham's new Poet Laureate, and he's on a mission. Maybe you can help.
"For me the role is to bring poetry to the parts of the city it doesn't yet reach. Poetry already lives well in Birmingham, but does it live well in all sections? I'd argue not. It doesn't reach people equally geographically, and it doesn't reach them equally across the class structure. I want to take poetry to communities of lower socio-economic backgrounds. I want to be in schools and in community groups, reading poetry, introducing brilliant Brum poets — like Roy McFarlane and Adrian Earle — to our city, and inspiring the next McFarlane. The next Earle.
"A lot of people feel poetry is a luxury. A luxury that you need to have time to be able to indulge in. That's wild, it needs to be more prevalent than that. Poetry is an excellent release, an escape from the day-to-day, and a way of documenting life.
"I've seen poetry that tells the story of the working class, told by people who tend not to be from that background, and told to people who aren't from there either. This needs changing up. Poetry needs to be accessible to, and by, those that have been forgotten.
"Poetry needs to be accessible to more black people. Black people have felt marginalised by poetry — there's a feeling that it's not for us. That's not true of all black people but I think it's true of black people more than any other racial demographic.
"And finally poetry needs to be accessible to those who are differently abled. An example? Poetry nights are often held, say, on the third floor of a cafe, with no lift, because it's the only space the event organisers can get for free. They'll either put the event on knowing someone in a wheelchair, or using a frame can't get there, or they'll choose not to put it on at all. I want to make sure those events go ahead. And I want to be asking the question, can it go online, too? I want to be asking, can it go online and can it do so with sign language for the deaf?
"There are more white middle class people in Birmingham that know about me and what I do, than those that grew up where I grew up, in Nechells. That's what I want to change. That right there."
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