THE CITY THAT SPOKE TO ME
The City That Spoke To Me is a collection of portraits celebrating the rich and inspiring poetry scene in Birmingham. The portraits are an ode to the poets that introduced me to poetry and the poets that inspired them.
Click each portrait to explore their poem and an interview with them.
BSL versions of each audio interview are available.
in memory of leon priestnall
Photo by Bernard Davis
The first time I heard poetry outside of a school setting that wasn’t in musical form, was at Beatfreeks’ Poetry Jam, in the summer of 2013. It was a life changing experience. Sitting in the top space of Urban Coffee Company on Church Street in Birmingham, I was firstly amazed at the amount of people that had quite literally squeezed themselves into the room, covering every inch of floor. I watched as one open mic’er performed a powerful piece about an experience of racism, followed by another poet speaking on their experience of love. That was followed by gender identity, sexism, classism, funny experiences, happy times, sad times, everything was on the table and with every passing three minutes, I learnt more and more about the people and the world around me. For each performance, the audience listened intently, silence over the room, occasionally the sound of fingers clicking and hums of agreement. I left the venue writing my poem in my head. On the train, I made notes. Although I never pursued poetry as my form of expression, over the next few years, I had the privilege of photographing and filming poets and poetry events, including here at the Hippodrome, each time learning and growing.
Poetry has a profound effect on people: seeing people connect over a poem, whether it’s a shared experience or a discovery that they aren’t alone in a feeling, gives that person a power that they didn’t have before. In my opinion, it is virtually barrier-less to be involved, it requires nothing but your desire to speak out your experience of the world, open mics are accessible online and every poetry space I’ve had the pleasure of being at feels safe, welcoming and supportive. There are no outsiders, only the people that haven’t had the opportunity to listen yet.
This body of work opens a door into poetry, through the poets that opened the door for me, and those that did the same for them. It celebrates Birmingham, a city of support, love and opportunity, the city that gave me the experience of poetry, my career, my friends and my family. The portraits are at the poets’ homes and their poems are intentionally handwritten. As poets they are connected by the art form, but beautifully different in every other aspect. Through the interviews you can hear their thoughts and opinions on poetry, Birmingham and learn more about each person. The artefacts bring the space to life and are an archive of the moments that have punctuated poetry in this city.
At the end of this exhibition, you can write yourself into the poetic landscape. It might be your first poem. It might be your dreams, experiences or ambitions. It might be a thought on the poetry community you are already a part of. Poetry gave me the space to discover myself and the world around me. Let it do the same for you.
submit your own letter/poem
What do you love about Brum? We are collecting love letters (or poems) from people who have something about this wonderful city. Use the form to submit your love letter.
LIBRARY OF Birmingham
Centenary Square, Birmingham
Over 250,000 pairs of feet passed through the exhibition of Library of Birmingham.
Hurst St, Southside, Birmingham