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October 2016

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Call for Volunteers

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We are looking for volunteers for the first Verve Poetry Festival. The Festival is taking place from 16th ­­­­– 19th February 2017 at Waterstones Birmingham.

Volunteers should be confident, passionate about poetry and spoken word, be able to work well in a team, and use their initiative in a fast-paced environment. We will need volunteers for the whole festival. On Thursday 16th and Friday 17th, volunteers will be needed for the evening, and on Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th, volunteers will be needed all day.

Volunteers will need to be available for two training sessions before the festival: an initial volunteer meetup during the week commencing January 23rd 2017 and a training session on February 6th 2017.

Event Volunteer Responsibilities
Responsibilities will include helping our poets, answering patrons’ questions, guiding people to their events, and checking tickets.

Social Media Volunteer Responsibilities
Volunteers should be able to use Twitter and Facebook proficiently, have a good knowledge of poetry and spoken word, be able to respond to events and content quickly and efficiently, have their own smartphone or tablet. Responsibilities will include live tweeting and blogging our events, taking photos during the events, responding to queries online and responding to interactions.

If you’d like to be part of Verve, please send a CV and covering letter explain why you’d fit into the team to jennaclake@hotmail.com. Please also include details of your availability for the festival.

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Verve at Waterstones

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My name is Stuart Bartholomew, and I work for Waterstones. I am the General Manager at Waterstones in Birmingham, which has recently re-opened with it’s own bookseller run cafe and bar, and had been working hard to become part of the literary pulse of this city. We have tried to do this, both through having as many of the books that people want as we possibly can, but also by becoming a centre for readings and other book related event activity at the heart of the city.

I am also a poetry fanatic. I have been trying hard to improve the poetry section we have, adding in lots more contemporary poetry, and making us official stockists for excellent local presses Nine Arches Press and The Emma Press. And poetry has become a big and important part of the events we have been running. Already this year, we have had readings from Liz Berry, Luke Kennard, Roy McFarlane, Gregory Leadbetter – all poets with collections out – as well as a whole host of others. We run a practical poetry group with the help of local poet Roz Goddard and the Poetry Society, and a monthly open-mic night hosted by Gavin Young.

And now, I am Co-Director and Lead Programmer of Verve: A Birmingham Festival of Poetry and Spoken Word. Along with my Co-Director, Cynthia Miller, Roz Goddard, Emma Wright from The Emma Press, and another poetry-mad colleague, Alex Ashford, we have created Birmingham’s first poetry-only festival! It features the full spectrum of poetry in equal measure. It involves successful prize-winners and up and comers. It provides opportunities for people to see excellent poetry, but also to join in if they wish. We think it is the perfect poetry festival for Birmingham.

Verve is not Waterstones, and Waterstones is not Verve. Waterstones Birmingham will host the festival (without charging Verve), will help with staffing, will provide PA s and seating, and will close a floor for the entire four days that Verve will run. Waterstones will run our pop-up festival poetry bookshop, and their cafés (there are two!) will be our cafés. Verve will be good for Waterstones, but Waterstones is certainly being good to Verve!

But Verve is very much its own thing – the programming has been ours, the design and ethos of the festival too. And it is being run not for profit, which means that all the money we make from ticket sales will go to pay to the poets we book and help promote the festival. We have other sources of funding, most notably from Grants for the Arts. But also from our Lead Sponsors: Shopping In Birmingham, and our event sponsors, who are wonderfully supportive of the arts in the city. You even helped us by supporting us through our crowd-funding project.

What Waterstones have given us is a remarkable venue right in the centre of the city. And by saving us the venue fees we would normally expect, they have enabled is to achieve one of our key goals for Verve – to keep our ticket prices affordable and our childrens events free – so that as many people as possible, in the city and beyond, can visit and enjoy Verve!

I hope very much to see you at Verve in Waterstones Birmingham this February. I will be the fellow at the back looking very, very happy indeed!

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Poetry and the art of gentle interrogation

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My poetry year has unfolded in a surprising and wonderful way after a conversation in February with Stuart Bartholomew, manager of Waterstones in Birmingham, about his marvellous plans for poetry in the city. I found myself volunteering to be part of the steering group for the new Verve Festival of Poetry and Spoken word, launching at the store in February 2017. Over the past few months Stuart along with Cynthia Miller, have been busy programming an exciting four days of poetry in the heart of the city, featuring some of the very best poets in the country. It has been quite wonderful to support them and be part of the team that also includes Emma Wright of The Emma Press and Alex Ashford, a manager at Waterstones.

We’ve all carved out our roles on the steering group and they’ve evolved very naturally along the way – I’ve had the gentle interrogator’s role: what’s the budget for the workshop strand? What are our projected ticket sales? What can we offer our volunteers? How can we make the poetry space look amazing? Front-line responsibility for sponsorship, spreadsheets and negotiating poets’ fees sits with Stuart and Cynthia while I find myself thinking about playlists, induction for volunteers and how many garlands of fairy lights it would take to drape the Waterstones stairwells – there’s zero budget for such a thing, but a woman can wonder.

I’ve also been an advocate in team meetings for our Poetry Society Brum Stanza, the monthly group I host at Waterstones. I’m delighted that talented local and regional poets from Stanza will feature in the programme with a special poetry breakfast, where members will read poems as the listening public tuck into croissants and prosecco. It’ll be great!

The Verve team have recently launched a crowdsourcing campaign to fund parts of the festival but also, crucially, to build financial sustainability in order to continue Verve’s poetry work beyond 2017. There’s already a growing wish list of poets we’d like to invite to the 2018 festival. If you’d like to pledge – and there are excellent benefits to be had – you’ll find details here: http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/verve-poetry-festival

Excitingly, Verve promises to be a festival with national reach, inspired curation and some fabulous surprises. All will be revealed in November. Before then there’s the launch to think about, and although we won’t be projecting live images of the party from the roof of Waterstones onto the Rotunda, or having a white horse ascend in the glass lift, we want the evening to be special. It’s Birmingham’s first festival of poetry after all. Let’s see what we can conjure. Turn the sparkle to maximum.

Roz Goddard