Birmingham’s Poet Laureate, Casey Bailey talks big love for his home town, pulling down barriers and pushing inclusivity
We reckon if anyone can boost the coolness of poetry, it’s Casey Bailey. Teacher, rapper, song writer, playwright, champion of Brum, he’s no one trick poetry pony. The recently-appointed Poet Laureate is keen to get poetry out to the masses, making it more accessible and pulling down barriers. Casey explains: “People from lower socio-economic groups and sadly black people feel restricted and just not part of literature. Poetry nights tend to be on the third floor of a café inaccessible to anyone with disabilities.” Casey is determined to change this.
In essence, the Poet Laureate appointment is an extension of what Casey already does. As well as writing and performing, he’s an assistant head teacher in a secondary school and has been instrumental in pulling pupils into poetry as well as pushing the safeguarding, pastoral and behaviour agendas in the school. Casey created an extra-curricular group called Baileys Rap and Poetry Club whose members are predominantly boys disengaged from literature. The club takes in different writing techniques and has generally peaked the pupils’ interest.
Casey was born and raised in Nechells and observed the effects of deprivation first-hand, so he knows a bit about what some youngsters are up against and is committed to breaking the cycle. The media narrative towards the end of the summer which portrayed teachers as not wanting to teach doesn’t sit pretty or ring true with Casey. “That, followed by a backlash against the arts is really sad. There’s a lack of appreciation of the arts and artists find that they need to justify themselves.”
His own introduction to poetry at school left Casey cold and his route in was via music and his days as a young MC ‘spitting bars in bedroom studios’ and at underground raves. Writing music is still something Casey does for himself as well as penning songs for other people. Expect a new EP by the end of 2020. There’s also a play, Grime Boy due to open at Birmingham REP and the Belgrade in Coventry as soon as the restrictions on live performances are lifted. The play tells the story of an inner city teen growing up in Birmingham in the mid-2000s full of ambition to be the greatest grime MC.
The play was spawned at a 12-week workshop designed to develop the presentation of spoken word poetry in theatre. Titled Poetic Theatre Makers, the workshop was the first of its kind in the UK and was produced by Apples and Snakes in collaboration with Birmingham REP. Casey was also selected to be member of Bush Theatre’s Emerging Writers Group which supports writers over a period of time encouraging work on full length plays.
In terms of ambition, Casey says he doesn’t look beyond where he is, “it’s more about continuity and relevance to myself and other people”. Never tempted to move to London to chase the breaks, Casey says: “We sometimes look outside ourselves for reasons why something isn’t working. Yes, the breaks are bigger in London, but they’re fewer and it’s more saturated.” In any case, Casey says the poetry/spoken word scene in Brum is thriving – or it was pre-pandemic.
If you haven’t already, we urge you to have a listen to Dear Birmingham or Midlander or The Ballad of The Peaky Blinders on YouTube. They’re goose bump-inducing magnificent…