Sibyl Ruth
Birmingham Poetry Trail

Background

A Birmingham of the Mind - a Birmingham Poetry Trail was envisioned as a project enabling Birmingham Libraries to develop a linked trail of poetry-significant places across the City. The end result is a trail of poetry locations which, using an annotated guide, can be followed in various orders. The trail is capable of being followed in the field, as it were, or from the comfort of a local library.

Poet Sibyl Ruth, Birmingham's Poet Laureate, reports on the placement as follows:

The initial issue when embarking on this project, was which parts of the city to focus on. I decided against picking well-known Birmingham landmarks, and to go for less celebrated areas outside the centre. In order to avoid favouring one side of the city over another, it appeared best to have the trail go all around it. Birmingham's Number 11 bus route, which goes round the outer ring road seemed the ideal choice.

I have worked in close collaboration with the librarians from the city's three Poetry Places. They undertook to publicise the project in their libraries and to seek contributions from the poetry groups who meet there. I also asked for contributions from the Cannon Poets, the city's most longstanding poetry group. Additional funding for posters to go on advertising spaces in the buses themselves was also sought at this point.

I then went full circle on the bus, identifying places to write about. I wanted to do a poem about Winson Green Prison, and having obtained security clearance, got taken round by their librarian. Other fieldwork involved a tour of Aston Villa Football ground, and getting complimentary tickets for a match! A consultant also showed me round the City Hospital's Accident and Emergency department. All institutions I approached showed interest in the project.

The contributions from other poets varied widely in style. The librarians and I selected some of them to go in a leaflet, which will have the layout of a bus timetable. Poets whose work was not selected are invited to read out some of their poems - which will also be displayed - at a libraries event on National Poetry Day. The project is to be previewed at a talk I'm giving to a library users group in late August.

The project has already generated media interest. I was interviewed, and read one of the poems on Radio West Midlands. It has also been the subject of a television feature on Midlands Today. Writing poems for the trail, and the collaboration with the other groups and individuals involved has been one of the most enjoyable experiences in my year as Birmingham Poet Laureate.

Young Poets Network