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Monthly Archives

January 2017


Poetry Surgeries with Robert Harper

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Guest blog by Robert Harper

The whole Verve Festival enterprise is such an exciting thing for the West Midlands. It’s on next month and I can hardly believe my luck, like the best belated Christmas present or a perfect addition (or antidote, depending on your way of thinking) to Valentine’s week.

When Stuart Bartholomew first mentioned Verve was happening, and that he’d like Bare Fiction and myself to be involved in some way, I got a tingle. A poetry and spoken word festival in Birmingham! All in the delightful and newly renovated Waterstones store? Double tingles. Over a few phone calls and emails, Stuart and I banged our heads together to come up with the best way for Bare Fiction to support the festival. Since BF is just myself and the festival already had a great line up of poetry workshops for people to attend we thought offering a few one-to-one sessions over the weekend of Verve would be ideal.

It’s always such a pleasure to sit with someone and talk about a poem; discuss what is working and what might not be, how a reader might stumble and how best to approach rewriting a line here or there. So, that’s what I’ll be doing between 10am and 12pm on Saturday 18th and Sunday 19th February, in the comfort of the wonderful Waterstones café (I’m sure the cake will be as good as always too). The slots are half an hour each and they’re all FREE! Click this link to sign up for one of the eight available slots and bring along a poem you feel needs a little tender nudging in the right direction. See you then (and at lots of other brilliant events throughout the festival).

Robert-Harper-online-poetry-surgery-759x500Robert Harper founded Bare Fiction Magazine in 2013 at the same time as he began his MA in Creative Writing (Poetry) & Pedagogic Studies at Manchester Metropolitan University. After completing his first full collection under the guidance of Jean Sprackland, later this year Robert is on track to commence a PhD in poetry with a combined critical & creative research project on American Poetry of the mid 20th Century. He has taught creative writing in Shropshire for the last 4 years and has edited anthologies and collections for several poets.
His own poetry has been published in journals such as The Interpreter’s House, Prole, Acumen, The Lonely Crowd, Ink Sweat and Tears, And Other Poems, New Welsh Reader, and in anthologies such as ‘#2PoetryAnthology’ (Vanguard Editions), ‘Fathers and What Must Be Said’, ‘A New Manchester Alphabet’, The Every Day Poet, and ‘An Anthology to Seamus Heaney’, and was Highly Commended in the Poetry Book Society Student Poetry Competition in 2014. He regularly reads his work at events across the country and, having been an actor for 25 years, often gives workshops on vocal and performance skills.

Food and drink at Verve

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All that listening, reading and writing is sure to make you hungry. If you fancy stretching your legs between performances or grabbing a bite to eat, we put together this blog of some of our favourite spots in the city.

If you haven’t been to Birmingham in a while, I’m sure you’ll find that the city has changed drastically. There are more new pubs, restaurants, bars and quirky cafes than you can possibly imagine. Since Waterstones is right in the heart of the city centre, most of these are within an easy 10 minute walk of the venue. If you’re not sure where to go, grab a Verve volunteer who will be happy to point you in the right direction.

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Tilt – Tucked away in a side street near Waterstones, Tilt has coffee, a selection of craft beers and, surprisingly, a lot of vintage pinball machines.

Faculty – You won’t find another cafe that obsesses over coffee like Faculty. Small but perfectly formed, swing by this cafe in Picadilly Arcade for a quality latte. 14 Piccadilly Arcade, B2 4HD.

Yorks Bakery Cafe – Cosy and inviting, Yorks serves up fantastic coffee, tasty treats and a delightful brunch menu that will set you up for the day. 29/30 Stephenson Street, B2 4BH.

Edwardian Tea Rooms – A true hidden gem. Located in the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, this is the perfect spot for a cuppa and people-watching. Chamberlain Square, B3 3DH.


(Image credit: Independent Birmingham)

Waterstones Cafe – Serving up hot drinks, coffee, pastries, soups and sandwiches, there are two bookseller-run cafes in the store.

4023 – Quite possibly one of our favourite lunch places in the city, 4023 does a roaring trade in delicious grilled Mediterranean wraps. 34 Stephenson St, B2 4BH.

Sixteen – (Pictured) Right next to Faculty in the Picadilly Arcade, Sixteen has beautiful cakes, light sandwiches and salads in their one-stop-lunch-spot. Menu changes daily.

BrewDog – Next door to The Stable is famous punk brewery Brewdog – stop here for excellent beers and bar snacks.

Anderson and Hill – Our favourite deli is located in the beautiful Great Western Arcade by the Cathedral. Admire the various meats and cheese on offer, and pick up a gourmet sandwich or salad box for lunch.

LEON – London’s favourite healthy fast food restaurant is now in Birmingham, serving up salad boxes, wraps, treats and drinks. Grand Central/New Street Station.



Original Patty Men – (Pictured above) There’s a reason they have a cult following. Located in the railway arches by Moor Street, these are hands down the best burgers we’ve ever had. Ever. Krispy Kreme donut burger anyone? 9 Shaw’s Passage, B5 5JG.

Tonkotsu – Step inside Selfridges’ Food Hall for a big hearty bowl of ramen that will warm you up on a wintery February evening.

Yakinori – Head upstairs in Grand Central to this independent for delicious (and reasonably priced) Japanese food. Limited seating in their impossibly tiny open-air shop, but they do a killer £5 lunchtime takeaway option. Grand Central, above New Street station.

Pure Bar – Gastropub and brewery serving up a range of tasty, tasty beers and pub classics with a twist. If you haven’t tried their mac and cheese, you haven’t lived. 30 Waterloo Street, B2 5TJ.

The Stable – 30 seconds walk from New Street, The Stable is a friendly place famous for great pizzas, pies and ciders. 115 John Bright Street, B1 1BE.

Turtle Bay – Further along from BrewDog is this jamming Caribbean bar and restaurant. Go for the tropical cocktails, stay for the goat curry. 81-91 John Bright St, B1 1BL

Bodega – If you can wrangle a table, their South American food and lively atmosphere is well worth the wait. 12 Bennetts Hill, Birmingham B2 5RS

Lost & Found – Quirky cocktails and British classics done well, in a beautiful former bank building. 8 Bennetts Hill, B2 5RS.


Verve workshops: write, edit and perform with confidence

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Verve isn’t just about showcasing the best of the best of UK poetry. We want the festival to be a creative, welcoming space for writers of all ages and levels to be inspired to take their poetry further. That’s why we’re offering workshops and masterclasses to help you do just that.

Maybe you’ve been scribbling verse in secret. Maybe you’ve been writing for a while but find yourself craving inspiration and structured feedback. Maybe you’re an established poet that wants to work with other brilliant poets. Maybe one of your 2017 resolutions is to dedicate more time to your own writing. Whatever your reason, you’ve come to the right place.

Our workshops with Sarah Howe, Katrina Naomi and Kim Moore may have sold out already but there’s still time to grab tickets for five other fantastic workshops. Whichever workshop(s) you attend, we promise you they will open your brain to new ways of thinking about poetry, writing, editing, performing and the entire creative process. You’ll find new approaches to coming up with ideas and learn from the best working poets how to improve your poems and style in a friendly environment. All workshops and masterclasses are just £15 (£10 concession). Buy your tickets here.

Out-Spoken Masterclass
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This masterclass packs two in one. Join award-winning writers Anthony Anaxagorou and Sabrina Mahfouz for a two part workshop. The first part is all about delving deep into your imagination to write heartfelt poetry with literary technique. The second part focuses on performance, and is perfect for those who want to learn how to be calm and confident when reading poetry. Two poets, two workshops, two hours – all just for £15/£10.


Clive Birnie/Burning Eye Books Workshop
Clive Birnie
Poetry and technology are fundamentally opposed, right? Every poet starts with a blank notepad and a fancy fountain pen, right? Nope. In this unique workshop with Clive Birnie, Editor in Chief of Burning Eye Books, you’ll use your smartphone to unlock creativity and explore the magical intersection where page and performance, digital and analogue connect. Using techniques like cut up and montage, you’ll walk away with brand new tools for the modern day poet.


Come Rhyme With Me Masterclass
Come Rhyme With Me
If you’ve always wanted to stand up and perform your poetry with confidence, this is absolutely the workshop for you. Work with renowned poets Dean Atta and Deanna Rodger to craft your writing and learn the key skills you need to own the stage. With only 20 places available, this is a fantastic opportunity to invest in your own development as a poet and performer.


Jane Commane Workshop: Editing for Publication
Jane Commane 2
Once you’ve written poems you’re happy with (perhaps in our previous sessions!) take them along to this workshop. Jane Commane, editor of the formidable Nine Arches Press and Under the Radar magazine, will give you invaluable guidance on why titles and line breaks matter, among other topics. For only £15, benefit from Jane’s razor sharp eye and warm, insightful editing style. Perfect for poets of all levels, this workshop is packed with essential advice on how redraft and polish your poetry for publication.


Melissa Lee-Houghton Workshop (SOLD OUT)
Melissa Lee Houghton 2
Don’t miss this remarkable opportunity to workshop with a ground-breaking poet who has been shortlisted for both the Forward Prizes and Costa awards. In this two hour workshop, Melissa will help you explore how your writing is shaped, inhibited or enhanced by our concept of the reader. (Now sold out!)

Which workshop catches your eye? Don’t forget to book early and tell your friends, places are going very quickly.


Penned in the Margins at Verve Poetry Festival

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Guest post by James Trevelyan, Sales & Marketing Co-ordinator at Penned in the Margins

In May 2015 we were invited into the generous and welcoming new Waterstones Birmingham to give Luke Kennard’s fifth collection Cain its first public airing. In introducing Luke to a packed house and spending time in store, I found a committed and passionate poetry audience the size and like of which I’ve rarely seen elsewhere. It was incredibly exciting then to be asked to suggest authors to perform at a brand new poetry festival at the same location, and to now have the programme land on my desk shows what incredible promise Verve Poetry Festival has.

We are truly grateful to the organisers for showcasing so many of our artists in this inaugural year. It will be a pleasure to bring some of our big-name poets alongside genre-bending performers to Birmingham, which I hope will go a long way in demonstrating the range of work we are happily involved in producing.

Of course Luke Kennard – one of Birmingham’s and the UK’s very finest poets – will be again be performing to his home crowd, and we are very excited to have Melissa Lee-Houghton joining on the same bill. Melissa’s third collection, Sunshine, published in Autumn 2016 is a stunningly powerful and important work on mental health, love, sex and austerity that made both the Forward Prize Single Poem and Costa Poetry Award shortlists. They will be joined by Shazea Quraishi, a Bloodaxe poet, whose ethereal work on loss and family makes this event probably the best value £6 in poetry!

Hannah Silva, another former Birmingham resident, will be bringing an extended excerpt from her one-woman show Schlock! to the festival. We produced the show and are just off the back of a three-week London run that garnered a four-star Guardian review. Expect visual and linguistic fireworks in which Hannah rips up Fifty Shades of Grey (in every sense), demanding answers of its vocabulary of submission and offering it up alongside the work of punk feminist Kathy Acker. In a similarly experimental vein, we are really pleased to bring young performer Antosh Wojcik’s first solo show to Verve. Mixing spoken word and live drumming, Building a Voice Percussion Gun to Kill Glitches in Memory is as unique as the title suggests, investigating dementia and memory loss, family and relationships, through an electric drum kit and a charismatic and engaging vocal performance.

Having grown up in the Midlands myself, without being aware of much of a poetry scene, it will be an especial privilege for me to come back to introduce these acts and experience many more. I hope to be sneaking my way into events across the weekend, especially to see Raymond Antrobus, Fran Lock and the other poets involved in the Out-Spoken Press Showcase. Chatto’s Saturday evening event will be a stunner as well, featuring two of the most exciting and lauded new voices of the past few years in Helen Mort and Sarah Howe, and Kayo Chingonyi whose debut next summer Kumukanda is undoubtedly my most eagerly awaited book of 2017.

Oh, and I’m hoping not to be the only adult lurking at the back of The Emma Press children’s poetry events running across the weekend: the perfect mix of engaging and entertaining from excellent poets and an innovative publisher. Perhaps I’ll see you there…?