The marriage of art and literature with beer is commonplace, with one frequently crossing into the realm of the other. Throughout history, alcohol has been used as both muse and subject, from the traveling bards that wandered the medieval countryside going from tavern to tavern, singing songs and passing down a people’s oral tradition, to modern day country artists who lament the loss of their beer, truck, and lady friend (usually in that order). Even in something as simple as a name, the two find companionship: Rogue Brewery from Portland, Oregon, has a delicious beer dubbed the “Shakespeare Stout,” named after the very same scribe who said, “I would give all my fame for a pot of ale and safety.” It’s hard to argue with the Bard.
It’s also hard to argue with the cultural impact of beer in America today. In Alabama, beer has recently been in the foreground of politics and society as the craft beer movement found its way here thanks to a grassroots campaign (founded by Birmingham Weekly columnist Danner Kline) called Free the Hops, created to fight antiquated beer laws. Last year Free the Hops achieved its first benchmark success, as a new bill was passed allowing access to many of the finest beers in the world. Unlike much of American business, craft beer is growing.
Growth is found in another endangered art around the country—including here in Birmingham—as poetry readings garner popularity.
Groups and events like Southern Fried Slams are becoming more frequent. When most think of poetry, they probably think of written poetry— Keats, Wordsworth, Byron, Shakespeare—and it’s hard not to, with our literary and cultural roots so entrenched in British descent; but a far older tradition, as far back as Homer, has existed. Oral poetry, poetry as performance, has by far been the predominant medium through which stories, art, and history have been conveyed. But more than just preserving history, it was about the performance. The Beatniks of the 50s and 60s sought to regain the concept of poetry as performance rather than just words on a page.
Looking to recapture this movement and promote these two historical cultural mainstays, the Birmingham Public Library has created an evening called “Bards and Brews.” A poetry slam, beer tasting, and library gala event, Bards and Brews is a joint effort between the library and local entities. Haruyo Miyagawa, head of Arts, Literature, and Sports for the library and coordinator of the event, stated “Bards and Brews” is also an opportunity for the library to reach out to a younger demographic, and to show them that the library isn’t just a place to “checkout books and get ‘shh’d.’” The excitement of competition, performance, and of course, beer possess alluring appeal for many 18-35 year-olds (21+ for the beer).
The slam will follow Southern Fried Slam rules. Each participant will have 3 minutes with a 15 second grace period in which to perform. Points will be deducted for exceeding the time limit. Participants are not allowed to use any props, costumes, or music in their performance. The highest and lowest score from the judges will be thrown out. The slam is three rounds (“American Idol in a smaller package”), with the final two competing for the winner take all prize.
Participants must be 18+ to enter. Sign ups will be taken prior to the start of the event, and it is $5 to enter. As many participants as can be accommodated in the two-hour time period will be allowed to enter. While this is a contest, the ultimate goal of the poetry slam is not that all performances be ‘good;’ rather, a live performance is a communal experience, a chance to engage one another in an artistic and expressive act. The show is free of charge to those who wish to come out and enjoy a great night of enthralling entertainment and succulent suds.
For the first installment, this Friday, October 1, Good People Brewing Company—a local Birmingham brewery and success story—will be providing the beer, and Brian Hawkins will emcee the evening’s events. Hawkins is a full-time performer and has been a part of many slams and events around Birmingham, including “On the Stage at the Carver,” which, at seven years, is Birmingham’s longest poetry open mic, as well as others around the Southeast. Hawkins has taught literature at Alabama State University, Sequoyah School—an Alabama state correctional school— and Minor High School. In addition, Hawkins is co-founder of WordSpeak, a non-profit geared towards serving underprivileged youth. His passion for poetry slams and the city of Birmingham is an excellent asset.
“Bards and Brews” will be held on the first Friday of every month, except December. The library is cognizant that this is a busy time for most. But it will be back in action after the New Year. Come out on Friday for a great time of art and that most delicious of delicacies, beer. The evening’s events will be underway at 6:30, with live music from 6:30-7 p.m. The slam itself will begin at 7. Come one and come all.
“Be always drunken. Nothing else matters...
Drunken with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you will. But be drunken.”
Metaphorically, of course.
John Easterling writes about sports and other topics for Birmingham Weekly and is also the author of our X’s & O’s blog. Please send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.