Writer Jasmine Khan / Photographer Enhance Creatives
Empower Poetry delivered a truly unique experience last Wednesday at Zumhof Biergarten, on Lower Trinity Street. One which provided a safe space for all attendees, and samosa for just a pound.
The upstairs of Zumhof is a bit of an enigma and I’m curious about how Empower Poetry is going to create intimacy in such a spacious venue. Curated, is the first word that comes to mind. Everything about the events set up is purposeful, the crew’s matching hoodies, the spotlights, the Instagram-inspired flower wall. The seats are cosy boasting several sofas and there’s chicken and dumplings with greens as well as free cupcakes.
Before the night kicks off, Empower’s Kohinoor states that the night’s purpose is to eliminate elitism and give power back to spoken word poetry. She’s piqued my interest already.
Keilah Rebekah, gives a brief trigger warning (a frequent occurrence throughout the night) before starting the evening off on a soulful note. Her dynamic vocals sing us through her childhood trauma. It’s great to have some creative variety from the offset, though I experience a sinking feeling and tears start streaming down my face as I helplessly reflect back Keilah’s vulnerability.
God, I wish she had a band behind her.
Next up is Destiny, who starts his first poem with ‘Dear future wife’ and all the fems in the room swoon. Destiny’s poetry is passionate and lustful, it’s humble and hilarious, and then it’s over because we swiftly move onto…
Ameena, who I adore instantly because she’s a loud-mouth brown girl, who talks about politics. ‘Why are we cancelling celebrities but not politicians?’ Ameena to-the-point flow questions. I’m clicking vigorously, while several ‘mhmms’ emanate from the crowd. Her clever rhymes and confidence definitely make Ameena one to watch.
Ade, must also get a mention. His use of an instrumental backing track matched to his spoken word is atmospheric, making him stand out from the other poets. Ade’s performance speaks on his blackness and spirituality, as he thanks his parents for their grace in raising him. It’s refreshing considering the parental focus so far has been, justifiably, negative.
Stephanie follows, and I indulge in a small sigh of relief as she appears on stage with a notebook in hand. Maybe it’s because I’m about to hit my quarter-life crisis, but there’s something about phones on stage that challenges my focus on the poetic ambiance.
Stephanie sultrily speaks of womanhood with its joys and fears. Her flow is relaxed and cool, but purposeful. Stephanie’s imagery is expressive, demanding more and sarcastically unpacking the notorious orgasm-gap. She pauses, letting the seriousness of her words land amongst the audience, as our giggles settle.
Stephanie knows that what she’s saying is the truth, her truth, our collective truth. So, she doesn’t need pace to prove a point.
There’s a 10 minute comfort break. So, I grab myself some water because the halal friendly vibes mean no one’s going to question why I’m not drinking, and take my seat again.
Straight on is Birmingham Review’s very own, Hassan, who passionately speaks about the confines of religion. Then, Irram, who speaks about curry for breakfast on Sunday mornings and the challenges she experiences as a hijabi who wears her culture and religion proudly on her face.
Next, we’re blessed by separate performances from organisers Ryan and Kohinoor, who are both clearly experienced poets. Then, introduced to Haroon and jodY from BYOB or Bring Your Own Bars, a London poetry collective who Ryan stresses have been hugely influential in his personal spoken-word journey.
jodY’s (BYOB) performance moves me in a different way, even though he’s the only poet on the night to ask for a restart.
jodY becomes his childhood self on stage as he performs his poetry without an aide, physically embodying all of the sadness and rage that his words express. Labelled a naughty child at school, jodY’s dyslexia suffocates him as he recounts choking up whilst being made to read at school. His flow and mannerisms perfectly synced, they are a scarily accurate representation of a child falling into crippling anxiety.
Too many children are made to feel stupid when they just need a different kind of support. I take the time to thank Jody for his performance before I head out. Wait, there’s one more spoken word artist left.
Jada, is a Birmingham based poet who is “Interested in the conversations we are not having and using poetry as a medium to provoke thinking about equality, empowerment and economics”.
In her spoken-word set, Jada’s flow is well-timed and cleverly critical, talking directly to the audience about Kim Kardashian beauty standards and how they impact modern day sex and intimacy. In her final poem Jada’s voice fortifies, calling out the horrific behaviour of our government throughout the pandemic, and sharing her personal loss at being unable to attend her uncle’s funeral.
Empower Poetry’s event leaves me simultaneously fulfilled and exhausted. There is a lot to process. It’s been real, looking forward to the next.
For more, including updates on their next event follow from Empower_Poetry and links to social media, click here.