1. Connecting poets, artists, activists, and local entrepreneurs.
“I want to see the community rally around art and artists in a way this city/country/world doesn’t often see. The expansion of the festival will hopefully do some of that work, but maybe there will be more ways for poets and artists to pour into and represent the community. We are the Magic City, after all, and what is art but magic?.”
— Ashley M. Jones
Learn more about Ashley’s vision from this interview with I Create Birmingham.
2. Widening the tapestry: taking Birmingham to New York.
Building new partnerships.
As a result of partnering with PEN America, Ashley and Alina were flown to New York City to attend the annual board meeting for PEN and report on the Magic City Poetry Festival.
Because the history of Birmingham is a national story—a reflection of how state, local, and national politics intersect to influence lives—we wanted to connect those dots in order to reflect on the present as well as the future of social change.
Poetry is everywhere.
Two poets on a two-day trip to New York City will not survive without turning it into poetry. Both Ashley and Alina wound up writing poems about an unexpected trip to the famous Bellevue Hospital.
3. Connecting truth, freedom, and the power of language.
“Poets and journalists have long been the torment of dictators, authoritarians, and totalitarian regimes. The truth-seeking role of both has never mattered more. Good journalism, like poetry, helps us to make decisions. In choosing which beliefs to revise after learning new information, we are making a value judgement rather than a factual one. The epistemic authorities in whom we place our confidence determine the truth we forge. And some humans choose loyalty over facts, anecdote over statistics. If the liberal media is right about anything, then there is the possibility that the liberal media is not the evil enemy. This demolishes the belief that the liberal media is in and of itself always wrong. Fact-checking is not an effective weapon in post-truth scenarios. A poetry festival can serve as a vehicle for
- Alina Stefanescu, MCPF Program Director
“… the difference between the traditional lie and the modern lie will more often than not amount to the difference between hiding and destroying. The violence of the modern lie consists in the absolute loss of the reality that it denies. But we could also say that the violence of the lie, in this process, consists in substituting the action of destroying the facts of reality for the action of beginning, replacing a history of beginnings with a history of their total erasure.”
- Cathy Carruth, “Lying and History” (Eurozine)
“We were honored to support this powerful reading and discussion on the past, present, and future of media and literary representations of the American South. Thank you to the readers, Kiese Laymon and Jacqueline Trimble. A special thank you and congratulations to PEN Members Ashley M. Jones, Festival founder and director, and Alina Stefanescu, Festival organizer, for assembling an outstanding week of programs celebrating literature and free expression in Birmingham.”
— Kyle Dacuyan, Director, The Poetry Project
“I believe it was one of Saturday’s featured poets, Jason McCall who said poetry is the art of listening, and together, last week, a vast community of Birmingham poets and poetry fans came together to listen to each other—to attend to stories of life in the Magic City, our struggles for justice, our losses and triumphs, our dreams and desires. People came together in a dialogue of life affirming joy, in standing room only crowds. As a community, we blessed each other with the magic of open hearts and minds, and created the mojo of awareness which occurs in a community of listeners.
These opened the doors and the unsung voices of many local writers, but The Magic City Poetry Festival brought all those communities together. We became a huge congregation of citizens who want to listen to the truths of their neighbors, and feel the joy and passion, loss and triumphs spoken in the words and music created by the poets of Birmingham and Alabama.
Some may say, It’s only poetry—but today, as spring time brings apple blossoms, huge pink roses, and sprouting amaryllis bulbs to the garden before me, after a week of deep and beautiful community listening, I feel a revival of hope against the dystopian background of current events. I return to this page, believing again in the power of arts and community.”
— Laura Secord, Birmingham Poet and Activist
Man, listen... the Magic City Poetry Festival needs to be renamed the Magic City Poetry Revival because last night’s reading and panel discussion on race in America had me feeling like I’d gone to church and been baptized. Ashley M. Jones, you have truly outdone yourself with this event. Thank you for blessing our city with this.
— Javacia Harris Bowser, See Jane Write Birmingham