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How Bards and Brews unifies the Birmingham arts community

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Calvin Macon was one of more than a dozen artists from the Birmingham metro area who performed their spoken word pieces during the monthly Bards and Brews event hosted by the Birmingham Public Library. (Amarr Croskey Photo, For The Birmingham Times)
By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times

Eddie Melton took part in the national discourse last week during a spoken-word event in front of a packed room at the Birmingham Museum of Art.

He delivered a poem, titled “Mr. President,” that said in part: “You separated me from my mother and my father, and you are telling me you don’t want to be bothered. How would you feel, Mr. President, if someone separated you from your family? You may say, ‘So, so,’ but I believe, Mr. President, you will reap what you sow.”

Melton was one of more than a dozen artists from the Birmingham metro area who performed their spoken-word pieces during Bards and Brews, a poetry performance and beer tasting hosted by the Birmingham Public Library (BPL), usually on the first Friday of each month.

The event came ahead of National Library Week, April 7-13, an annual celebration highlighting the valuable role libraries, librarians, and library workers play in transforming lives and strengthening communities.

While some of the presenters last week were previous performers at Bards and Brews—one of the more popular BPL-sponsored activities—several were first-timers. Poets had the opportunity to recite one or two short poems or one long poem about any topic; each poet had about three to five minutes for the set.

Birmingham native and local poet K-Light, said “artistic expression . . . brings people together for a common goal and also shows that we are more alike than we are unalike.”

Everyone in the audience attentively listened and reacted to each performer, with many in the intergenerational, interracial, enthusiastic crowd laughing, clapping, nodding, and at times saying, “Amen” or “Preach.”

Alexis Sanders of Birmingham, in attendance with friends, said, “I’m really glad I came because I didn’t know events like these existed, especially in Birmingham. I definitely enjoyed the poets and the whole vibe, … so it makes me want to come again.”

Bards and Brews has been around for about eight years and has served as a platform for poets to gain confidence to appear at venues across the nation. The event has been held various locations, including local bars, community organizations, the McWane Science Center, and the BPL Central Branch.

Current Events

Some of the poems presented at last week’s event were about race, age, gender, love, and relationships; others focused on growing up in Alabama and even current national events. Melton’s “Mr. President” touched on the children separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border.

“You separated us without a clear-cut means of putting us back together again. That was cruel and cold. One day, Mr. President, the story will be told. How you treated us and all of that stuff, you treated us worse than you treated the president of Russia,” Melton spoke to an appreciative crowd.

Kiara Foxhall performed a poem titled “No More Apologies,” which was about being true and authentic: “My people selling their souls for affirmation, looking for a way to escape the validation. Do you cease to exist or exist to cease?”

K-Light said her performance felt like a homecoming: “It’s been a long time since I’ve been on stage, so this was my first time back performing my poetry.”

“I’ve known about Bards and Brews for several years now, so … it was very nerve-racking for me, getting up there and getting my feet wet again. At the same time, it was kind of exhilarating because the piece I performed was very special to me. It felt like now was the time to get back out there and see if I was going to continue to do more.”

K-Light’s piece, “Those Who Were Once Unknown,” memorialized those at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery, Ala., which commemorates the victims of lynching in the United States.

Diverse Audience

K-Light said she enjoyed the diverse audience and the intergenerational and interracial group of poets that performed at the event. The diversity of the performers speaks to the fact that “artistic expression—whether its art, poetry, or music—brings people together for a common goal and also shows that we are more alike than we are unalike,” she said.

“Our differences are less than those things that we share similarly, so I think that’s why these events are important. Plus, it’s Birmingham. There’s just so much history that flows through Birmingham. I think it’s always been a kind of artistic place, and [the diversity of Bards and Brews] just shows that it hasn’t died.”

For Birmingham native Calvin Macon, another Bards and Brews newcomer, it was a great experience doing poetry for the first time because he is a sculptor.

“Some of the poems I write relate to a specific sculpture I’ve done, and some are just general,” he said. “A lot of times, I’ll carve something and then write about it. That’s how I wound up here at Bards and Brews. It gave me butterflies—lots of butterflies because I was pretty nervous—but I [am a former U.S.] Navy instructor, so once I get going, I can stand up there and do what I have to do.”

Macon said he was also impressed by the diversity and the way events like these keep the arts community alive.

“You see a cross-section of different types of people, different talents, different gifts,” he said. “That’s what the arts are really all about.”

Exposure

Two other poets, Jamil Glenn and Jahman Hill, are Bards and Brews veterans.

Glenn, a Birmingham native, has performed poetry since he was a teenager and has participated in the event about three or four times, starting when he was a ninth-grader at West End High School.

“I was inspired by my sister to write poetry,” he said. “Also, my mother loved English a lot. She used to write poetry, too, and kind of inspired me to get into it. From then on, I’ve just been able to grow.”

Glenn said he learned about Bards and Brews through Brian “Voice” Porter Hawkins, a local artist who often hosts the event. For Glenn, each time he performs, it gets a little easier.

“Starting out, I was a little nervous, but the more I get up there, I just adjust to the crowd,” he said. “It’s a good way to get more exposure, get to know other poets, and meet different people in the city.”

For Hill, it’s a lot of fun “because it’s a really dope community, and you build a lot of relationships with people in the city.”

“I am from Tuscaloosa, so I feel like Bards and Brews has really been my main connection to … Birmingham. I always make sure I at least stop by for Bards and Brews because it’s an incredible, fun, communal event.”

The next Bards and Brews will be held May 3 at the BPL Central Branch, 2100 Park Place, Birmingham, Ala., 35203.

Click one of the links below to read more stories from the Birmingham Public Library: 

UAB Theatre Brings Broadway to West End Library

Birmingham Library hosts first ‘Reading Between the Wines’ on Friday