The evening kicked off with the host Casey Bailey introducing himself along with two other supporting poets, Cynthia Miller and Roy McFarlane, who read before the evening’s headliner, Terrance Hayes.
Casey Bailey, the first poet to read, is a teacher, rapper, and poet who provides social commentary through his writing. He uses elements of comedy to keep his audience laughing and entertained. Throughout the evening he stole the hearts of the audience through his amusing one-liners that received collective laughs from the room. Casey Bailey’s reading set the atmosphere for what would become an enjoyable evening featuring poetry that was both thought-provoking and compelling.
Bailey was followed by Cynthia Miller (the Cynthia Miller, as Bailey introduced her), who is Co-director of Verve Poetry. She read a collection of new poems and old favourites, centred on family, love and myths, as well as tackling issues such as identity crisis and colonisation.
Following Miller was Roy Mcfarlane, a former Birmingham Poet Laureate. He read from his second collection The Healing Next Time, which contains 16 sonnets. His writing is steeped in emotion, with elements of comedy to create a powerful balance. He tackles compelling themes including police brutality, mental health and prisons that directly impact black communities. He highlighted that there was only one case ever where a police officer was found guilty for social injustice back in 1969. The book also contains a notable story of a Rasta man who is walking in the ever changing streets of Birmingham; the moral of this story is that if you do good, good will follow you.
Terrance Hayes, who headlined the evening, is an American Poet and educator who has published seven poetry collections. In 2014 he was awarded the prestigious MacArthur fellowship, and on the morning after the reading it was announced that he had been nominated for the T.S. Eliot Prize. On the night, he read many of his sonnets from his newest book, titled American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin, which highlights, among other things, the ongoing violence against people of colour in America. His sonnets all share the same title, ‘American Sonnet For My Past and Future Assassin’, in spite of taking on various forms, from a stinkbug, to Donald Trump, to Hayes’s own reflection. He kept his audience engaged and garnered a few laughs along the way which helped to lighten the mood from some of the more challenging material he offered. He is something of a lyrical genius and his musicality underpins his poetry; he even broke into song at one point. Hayes’s exploration of race, gender and culture is vivid, and exciting, and not for the fainthearted.
Andrea Rodway is a Media and Communications graduate, who works in the TV and entertainment industry. She is also a rapper and a writer, most recently for Acharich Reviews.