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Birmingham Poet Laureate Blog

Blog 1 #AimsOfPositiveChange

Stephen Morrison-Burke

The position of Birmingham Poet Laureate is not for me. I’m too young, not responsible enough and have a palpable gripe with the Government at the best of times. Why slot myself into a system that I have spent many nights dreaming about overthrowing, Che Guevara style. No, not my kind of party I’m afraid. No way. Not going to happen. Not on your nelly mate! I didn’t apply for the role that year. Twelve months on and my opinion had somewhat altered. I had come across an avuncular type gentleman who sat me on his knee like a cheap Santa and wisely advised me that if I want to make substantial changes, it’s best to work with the system instead of continually rallying against it. Be a part of the change you wish to see. I left that underground grotto feeling reinvigorated and in July 2012 I applied. Four poems were sent off along with a statement of interest which included my poetry accomplishments hitherto and a description of what attributes I believed I would bring to the position. On the strength of my application I was long listed as one of six people that would be invited back to partake in a short interview. I must stress that throughout the process of application, I repeatedly convinced myself that I wasn’t bothered by the outcome and was only half interested in the role anyway. I guess it’s similar to being twelve years old and fancying someone at school. Your friend asks them out for you whilst you stand there attempting to appear nonchalant as if you couldn’t care less. Deep down, your life depends on it. Well that was me. I was telling myself mellifluous porky pies to ease the inevitable disappointment.

I was fairly happy with how the informal interview went. The panel asked me a series of questions to which I gave my honest opinion. Previous to the interview, I had listed a multitude of questions I may potentially be asked on the day and had scripted my answers in accordance. That didn’t feel right for me personally. I knew why I wanted to be named as Birmingham Poet Laureate, what my plans are, why I applied and how I would work with the Young Poet Laureate given the chance. It all felt overwhelmingly natural, so why attempt to reshape what is instinctive so that it fits into an orthodox format? I had a much better idea. I was simply going to be my random self and allow my erratic mentality to shine through in the hope that the panel would become disorientated by my genuine optimism and have the perspicacity to recognise the perfect ‘neurotic risk’ when they see one. They did.

Stephen Morrison-Burke presentation

The announcement took place on National Poetry Day, Thursday 4th October. The process wasn’t too nerve racking for me as I had given my all and am a big advocate of the axiom ‘what is meant to be will be’. When my name was finally read out as the new Birmingham Poet Laureate 2012/13, my mum and auntie leapt up in celebration. (They were very biased throughout the whole process to be honest). The reality of it all left me genuinely surprised and overwhelmed. Brian Gambles, Assistant Director for Culture, Birmingham City Council presented me with a glass plaque before I performed my poem ‘Dance with Me’ for the gracious audience. Elvis McGonagall performed a set to conclude the night which was extremely funny and very well received. If you haven’t already, you must take time to see Elvis live. At the end of the evening I was surrounded by people who wanted to congratulate me on this fantastic achievement which was lovely given that I had walked into the venue pretty much unnoticed two hours previous. That was the first caveat as the newly crowned Poet Laureate that things were about to drastically change for me.

So what do I hope to achieve over the next twelve months? Well my main aim is to simply get more people writing. Expressing themselves through the page and if some of those people are willing to share their work, well that’s even better. In an age where there is still a plethora of social injustice, even in a ‘democratic’ country such as this one, it’s essential that people speak up and begin to unite (in a civil and responsible manor). Poetry, Spoken Word, call it what you will, is the perfect vehicle for achieving this and can also prove to be extremely cathartic. My motto is ‘everybody has a story somebody wants to hear’.

I recently read a very interesting article written a few years back by Poet Benjamin Zephaniah, who I’ve become a huge fan of lately and who was born in this here city, stating that ‘Poet Laureates suddenly go soft’ and that he ‘never wants to be considered as a Poet Laureate or O.B.E sucker again’. I fully understand why he wrote that statement and I will always refer to it as a point of reference. However whilst lucky enough to be in this position, I plan to do things a little differently and won’t allow myself to depart from the reasons I sat on that listless July afternoon and applied for this role in the first place. I want to make a positive change.

My vivid dream of a Che Guevara style revolution hasn’t yet died, contraire mes amis, it still lives on. It will just be conducted in a different format that is all.

Stephen Morrison‐Burke

Birmingham Poet Laureate 2012/2013

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