From going to poetry camp as a kid (I know) to doing a Creative Writing degree, to attending one of Birmingham's many electrifying, standing-room-only spoken word nights, I've always felt that poetry is a powerful and underrated force for change.
Change is more needed than ever. After the emotional rollercoaster of 2016, 2017 is for action, for stepping up and standing up for people and ideas we believe in.
What use is poetry? Poetry doesn't change the world, some say. But it can – it can nudge us to see things with fresh eyes, or inspire a tiny action, or help us to love each other a little harder. It creates those little goosebump moments that do change the world.
That's why I'm passionate about making 2017 a year to encourage those moments in others, to help even one other person realise the power of words to change themselves and the world.
That's where Verve comes in. Doing something new is our middle name.
If you haven't heard about Verve, we are Birmingham's first poetry and spoken word festival, taking place February 16 - 19 at Waterstones in the city centre. And we're all about doing something new.
We're a young festival with big ambitions to change the way that people see poetry.
Poetry doesn't have to be difficult, complex or out of touch. Attend a Poetry Jam and you'll see it can be violently alive, fierce, funny, relevant, sassy, hopeful, plain-spoken. The core of our vision is about creating a new space for up and coming spoken word poets (like National Slam Winner Hibaq Osman) to perform next to established poets (like Out-Spoken Press' Fran Lock). It means careful programming that speaks to our diverse and varied audiences.
We're also determined to change the way that people see the city. As an American that's made it my home for the last few years, I love its buzz, diversity, energy and relentless enthusiasm and wanted to make sure the festival reflects Birmingham's spirit. I think it's high time that Brum took itself seriously as a place that punches well above its weight culturally.
That's why local poets feature heavily throughout the four days, including Birmingham University's Luke Kennard, Nine Arches sensation Roy McFarlane, the Brum Stanza members, three talented Beatfreeks performers, as well as all four Podium Poets, Amerah Saleh, Jasmine Gardosi, Geraldine Clarkson and Helen Calcutt.
Fittingly for this year, Beatfreeks' blog theme for January is 'Do Something New'.
Start small. Read more. Write more. Speak up. Go to an event you may not have before. Sit at the front. Strike up a conversation with someone you've always admired. Sing great songs terribly. Sing terrible songs well. Carve out time for the things you love. Put pen to paper. Rip up the first draft. Get a good night's sleep. Try writing again. Perform at an open mic, even if it makes your palms sweat. Dare greatly.
In that spirit, if you take anything away from Verve, let it be the satisfaction of having tried something new. If you're a spoken word fan, listen to a poet like Kayo Chingonyi. If you're a die hard 'page' poetry person, check out a unique performance event, like the Anti-Slam. If you want to get comfortable reading in front of people, we have plenty of open mic slots at Thursday night's Poetry Parlour as well as Come Rhyme With Me's event on the Saturday night. And if you always thought your writing wasn't very good, buy yourself a workshop ticket - we recommend the Out-Spoken Press Masterclass. Think of it as an investment in yourself. And with tickets starting at just £3, isn't this the year to do it?
In the immortal words of Vietnamese-American poet Ocean Vuong, "Say yes. Say yes / anyway".
You may just surprise yourself.
Written by Cynthia Miller.
Cynthia Miller is a Co-Director of Verve, Birmingham's first poetry and spoken word festival. She is a Brand Strategist and occasionally writes poetry. Her poems will be published by Midlands-based Nine Arches Press in April 2017 as part of the Primers Volume 2 scheme.