Announcing the Verve Poetry Competition 2018 winners!

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We are delighted to announce the winners poets of the 2018 Verve Poetry Competition, as judged by celebrated poet Luke Kennard. Congratulations to all our winners and a huge thank you to everyone around the world that entered the Verve Poetry Competition this year!

First Prize (£500)
Consuelo Marshall – ‘Myself as Playboy Bunny’

Second Prize (£250)
Jacqueline Saphra – ‘Shoreditch’

Third Prize (worth £100)
Claire Trévien – ‘Brain as a City’

Judge’s statement:

“I think I’ve read for around ten poetry competitions over the years, but this is the first time I’ve judged something with a specific theme, and that made it quite a different experience. It was more like reading a vast, 600 page anthology, grappling with ideas of the city, experiences within it, personal histories both in celebration and lamentation. The poems had all the noise and stimulation of the city, and it was a privilege to be let in to these thoughts and stories, especially the more idiosyncratic. Perhaps unsurprisingly given the topic there was an unusually refined grasp of sensory detail, of the local as the universal, of one’s story honestly told being an act of intellectual generosity. On the first read through you’re really just absorbing everything, allowing the poems to work on you in whatever way the author intended or didn’t, gratefully receiving new perspectives and insights from an exciting range of voices. The more painful part comes when you have to start selecting, forming piles of Yes and Maybe, leaving some behind and taking others to the next round. You start to wonder who exactly you are to be entrusted with such a task. An attentive reader, I suppose, and I suppose that’s enough. I’m delighted with the winning and commended poems, as difficult as it was to choose so few from a field crowded with talent. Each time I return to them I find something else to admire; am struck again by the freshness and persuasion of the tone; the sense of an imagination as alive, as crowded, as joyful or poignant as the cities they conceive.”

Our City Poems event on Saturday morning has SOLD OUT but you can still buy tickets for other fantastic readings at the Festival here.



Nymphs and Thugs at Verve 2018 #3

Nymphs & Thugs at Verve 2018: Salena Godden, Matt Abbot, Maria Ferguson and Jamie Thrasivoulou

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Sunday sees Nymphs & Thugs visit Verve with some friends. They present Salena Godden, Matt Abbott, Maria Ferguson and Jamie Thrasivoulou; four vital performers all rattling with the sense of urgency that makes the UK spoken word scene so exciting at present.

Thunderbird’s Red on piers. 1987. UK Garage. Train yards. Silicon smiles. Bombastic chasms of self-destruction. Foot-soldiers and witnesses. Fair-weather friends of sin. Flat caps, camel coats and dogs. Cigarette burns on desolate benches. Oranjeboom 8.5. Hot water bottle life rafts. Mushroom cloud worshippers. The years of the suns and the moons.

For poets which talk about such a diverse range of things, their style and execution never seem to waver. These are writers which wrap their words around you like tendrils, stirring that sense of nostalgia and passion which has always attracted me to spoken word. I can safely say that, for me, this is one of the most exciting events at Verve this year.

But enough hype and sub-standard bodging of their words into a blog, here is a selection of some favourites. I am going to put a link to tickets for the event here, so you don’t frantically break your mouse / injure yourself whilst trying to find one, after watching the videos. Enjoy, reflect, stay safe.

‘Where Everyone Knew the Krays’ – Maria Ferguson 

‘Under the Pier’ – Salena Godden

‘The Best of a Bad Situation’ (A Sound Collage of Four Poems)  – Jamie Thrasivoulou

‘Roy of the Rovers’ – Matt Abbott

Poet Spotlights: Salena Godden, Luke Wright, Nuar Alsadir, Liz Berry

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Salena Godden

Salena Godden is a jack of many trades – poetry and performance, memoir and essay writing, teaching and mentoring – and is a master of all. She is a powerful poet in her own right, with publications such as Fishing In The Aftermath (Burning Eye Books, 2014) and Under The Pier (Nasty Little Press, 2011), as well as the album LIVEwire (Nymphs and Thugs, 2017), which was shortlisted for the Ted Hughes Award. Her essay ‘Shade’ featured in the Book of the Year’s Readers’ Choice, The Good Immigrant (Unbound, 2016). Why wouldn’t we be excited to host this poetry titan at Verve 2018? Watch her perform her iconic poem ‘Red’, here.

Luke Wright

Luke Wright is a hugely successful poet, theatre-maker and performer, whose nine spoken-word shows and two verse plays have toured worldwide and received great acclaim. But long before Wright brought Johnny Bevan (2015) and Frankie Vah (2017) to the stage, he formed the poetry collective Aisle16, with fellow student at the University of East Anglia, Ross Sutherland. We’re thrilled to announce that Aisle16 will be reforming for a special one-off performance here at Verve 2018, in a stand-up reunion that is not to be missed!


Nuar Alsadir

All the way from New York… We are beyond excited to announce that Nuar Alsadir will be joining us at Verve 2018! Alsadir’s work as a psychotherapist and psychoanalyst, as well as her fierce engagement with politics and media, makes her poetry some of the most striking writing around today. Her most recent collection, Fourth Person Singular (2017), was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection in England and Ireland, and her work has previously appeared in publications including Granta, The New York Times Magazine, Magma, and the Poetry Review. With an interest in how the mind perceives sensations and orders thoughts, Alsadir’s poems make you think, and think again. Read Nuar’s recent piece in Granta here.


Liz Berry
Hailing from Birmingham’s close neighbour, the Black Country, Liz Berry writes poems that are at the same time familiar and otherworldly. Distinctive for their use of Black Country dialect, her poems combine the stories of everyday lives with folkloric imaginings, and always seem to be just on the edge of metamorphosis. Berry’s debut collection, Black Country (Chatto & Windus, 2014), won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection, the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and the Somerset Maugham Award. Watch and listen as Liz Berry brings a little bit of local magic to the stage at Verve 2018. Hear Liz read her poem ‘Bobowler’ here.

2017 Verve Roundup

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2017 has been a thick year for poetry, and for Verve. Here’s a peek behind the curtain and a quick round up of everything we’ve has been up to.

The Birmingham Poetry Anthology

One of our festival partners The Emma Press, a local press known for beautifully made poetry pamphlets, published This Is Not Your Final Form, an anthology of Birmingham-inspired poems and original illustrations (drawn by Emma herself). The title is a nod to the way Birmingham is constantly changing and re-inventing itself. The book launched with a bang at the inaugural festival and featured winners of the first ever Verve Poetry Festival competition. It’s a stunner of a book; buy your copy direct from The Emma Press here.

Award-winning poets Katrina Naomi and Mona Arshi (photo by Thom Bartley)

Verve Poetry Festival 2017

Our inaugural year! Fuelled by big ambitions and an equal mix of enthusiasm and abject terror, we launched the Verve Poetry Festival with a bang. We wanted to create a festival that reflected the city’s urban, diverse, energetic, creative and industrious spirit, and invited 40+ of the very best poets to take over Waterstones Birmingham for four days and numerous events. Sell-out readings and packed-to-the-rafters performers with a diverse audience proved, beyond any shadow of a doubt, that poetry is alive and well.

Same time, same place, a whole new line-up of poets to thrill, inspire, challenge and move you.

Verve Poetry Festival 2018

Once we had recovered from our inaugural year, we started planning Verve 2018. And we’re pleased to say we’re committing to our mission of taking a wrecking ball to everything you thought a poetry festival should be. Don’t believe us? Buy your tickets to hear Imtiaz Dharker, Liz Berry, Salena Godden, Sabrina Mahfouz, Nuar Alsadir, Anthony Anaxagorou, Pascale Petit, Hannah Lowe and so many more brain-meltingly good poets perform and run workshops. Tickets are going faster than the last roast potato at Christmas dinner, so I’d be quick about it.

Launching Verve Poetry Press

As much as we love Verve, it only happens once a year. So we decided to bottle the Verve magic by launching a press. It’s more than just publishing great verse, the Verve family of brands is about creating change and platforms that widen poetry audiences — something we feel is needed now more than ever.

Why start a press? Well, despite lots of progress for widening access and the types of writers being heard, it’s still pretty dire. Only 16% of poetry published by main presses is diverse. Faber and Faber has still only published four people of colour in its storied 88 year history (all of them male). And pieces like the Guardian’s “Diversity in publishing — still hideously middle class and white?” keep pointing out again and again the sorry state of UK publishing. Change wasn’t happening fast enough, so Stuart Bartholomew, Co-Director and Lead Programmer of Verve, decided to crack on and do something about it.

The Festival made us realise that 1) there’s much work to do to break down barriers between page/spoken word poetry, 2) there was an opportunity to publish Midlands poets and 3) there is a market for it. (Or rather, Verve was helping to create a market for it.)

The Verve Poetry Press has already secured a stable of brilliant Birmingham poets and has big plans, so keep following us on Twitter to see what we’re up to!

To everyone that has cheered, championed, crowdfunded, clicked, celebrated and come out to support Verve with their voices, their time and their wallets, thank you from the bottom of our hearts. It couldn’t happen without you. Here’s to more madcap poetry adventures!

Stuart Bartholomew, Cynthia Miller, Nellie Cole, Fabio Thomas & the Verve team

Verve presents: poetry Thursdays at Waterstones

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While we keep you breathless with anticipation for the official programme launch of Verve 2018 (which will be revealed November 20th), there are plenty more poetry events happening in Birmingham to keep you busy until February. Thursdays are now official poetry evenings at Waterstones Birmingham.

Verve is delighted to present three special events with some of our favourite publishers and poetry people to brighten up your November. Don’t miss these ‘Verve Presents’ performances!

Thursday 2nd November – THE HILL by Angela France – Free!

Angela France’s remarkable new Nine Arches Press collection is now a live multimedia poetry show about place, permission and protest. Angela has brought the show on tour and we’re delighted that it will be performed in Birmingham!


https-cdn.evbuc.comimages355112941493089735321originalThursday 9th November – Brum Radio Poets Showcase – £5

For the first time ever, Verve/Waterstones Birmingham plays host to a live recording of the Brum Radio Poets Showcase, featuring 4 of the most exciting poets currently performing in the UK and the Midlands. This unmissable event features Solomon OB (the 2016 Hammer & Tongue National Slam champion), Samantha Roden, Sean Colletti and Lexia Tomlinson. From 7 PM — buy your tickets online!

https-cdn.evbuc.comimages355683192273397711851originalThursday 23rd November – Burning Eye Showcase – £5

You loved Burning Eye at Verve, so we thought we’d invite them back for a specials showcase to celebrate their new anthology, THE BEST POETRY BOOK IN THE WORLD, which marks five years of the cutting-edge publisher. From 7 PM.

Join Kate Fox, Toby Campion, Sagufta Iqbal and editors Clive Birnie and Jenn Hart for a riotous evening of spoken word unlike anything you’ve heard before. Book tickets here. 

See you at Waterstones Birmingham soon!


Verve ‘City Poem’ Competition: A Cityscape Springboard

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The 2018 Verve Poetry Festival Competition closes for submissions in just less than a month, on 25th November 2017. So if you haven’t already put pencil to paper / pen to board / finger to keyboard yet, we thought we could entice you with a springboard of suggestions to get the words going.

We at Verve are widening our scope. Moving forward on last year’s ‘Birmingham’ theme – this year we don’t just want poems about our city, but about all of them. We want to hear what ‘city’ means to you, whether that be a high-brow homage to Walter Benjamin’s flaneurial antics, a space-age vision of a new capital on Mars or a nostalgic memoir of an ancestral city home. This competition is open to anyone in the world (hello out there) and has infinite scope — so dust off them caps for thinking.

The following is a sporadic series of odds and sods, incoherent bits and pieces which relate, reflect and refract a multitude of cityscapes. They are as disjointed and contradictory as cities should be. Some may resonate, others may not. Either way hopefully something will get you writing with the vigour of an old lady mailing the marks and sparks complaints office.

The Verve Poetry Competition has great prizes to win: 1st prize £500, 2nd £250 and 3rd prize worth £100. The authors of the best fifteen poems will be invited to read alongside six commissioned poets at our City Poetry Event at Verve 2018!

* * *

Colson Whitehead
Excerpt from The Colossus of New York

‘There are eight million naked cities in this naked city – they dispute and disagree. The New York City you live is not my New York City; how could it be? This place multiplies when you’re not looking. We move over here, we move over there. Over a lifetime, that adds up to a lot of neighborhoods, the motley construction material of your jerry built metropolis. Your favorite newsstands, restaurants, movie theatres, subway stations and barbershops are replaced by your next neighborhood’s favorites. It gets to be quite a sum. Before you know it, you have your own personal skyline.’

* * *

Mimmo Jodice

Napoli - Jodice Mimmo

* * *

Teju Cole
Excerpt from Everyday is for the Thief

‘One goes to the market to participate in the world. As with all things that concern the world, being in the market requires caution. Always, the market – as the essence of the city – is alive with possibility and with danger. Strangers encounter each other in the world’s infinite variety; vigilance is needed. Everyone is there not merely to buy or sell, but because it is a duty. If you sit in your house, if you refuse to go to market, how would you know of the existence of others? How would you know of your own existence?’

* * *

Nakasu, Tokyo at Night

* * *

Roi Kwabena
Excerpt from ‘Birmingham – Capital of Culture’

cuisines galore
carnivals in the shadow of public art
an entire district dedicated to balti
Luna society of scientific enquiry
Aston hall where royalty dined
Abolitionists, friends and metal smiths
confer as harvested chocolate is still prepared
sporting arenas and automobile engines fine tuned

* * *

Alex Webb
Cuba. Sancti Spiritus. 1993. Baseball fans

CUBA. Sancti Spiritus. 1993. Baseball fans.

* * *

Adrian Henri
Excerpt from ‘Liverpool Poems’


Note for a definition of optimism:
A man trying the door of Yates Wine Lodge
At quarter past four in the afternoon.

I have seen Pare UBU walking across Lime St
And Alfred Jarry cycling down Elliott Street.


And I Saw DEATH in Upper Duke St
Cloak flapping black tall Batman collar
Striding tall shoulders down the hill past the Cathedral brown shoes slightly down at the heel


Unfrocked Chinese mandarins holding lonely feasts in
Falkner Sq gardens to enjoy the snow.


Prostitutes in the snow in Canning St like strange erotic
And Marcel Proust in the Kardomah eating Madeleine
butties dipped in tea.

* * *

Berenice Abbot
Hardware Store, NYC

Berenice Abbot - Hardware Store

* * *

Talking Heads
‘Don’t Worry About the Government’ (from Talking Heads 77)

‘It’s over there, it’s over there
My building has every convenience
It’s gonna make life easy for me
It’s gonna be easy to get things done
I will relax alone with my loved ones

Loved ones, loved ones visit the building
Take the highway, park and come up and see me
I’ll be working, working but if you come visit
I’ll put down what I’m doing, my friends are important’

* * *

Peter Ackroyd
Excerpt from London

‘There was another characteristic urban process, too, with development along the lines of the main roads followed by a consolidation of the areas between the thoroughfares so that, as The Builder of 1885 put it, “the growth of the solid nucleus, with but few interstices left open, has been nothing less than prodigious.” By the 1850s the city began to lose its population to areas such as Canonbury to the north, and Walworth to the south. The advent of cheap “workmen’s fares” meant that areas close to a railway station could be quickly inhabited; thus there emerged “working-class” suburbs such as Tottenham and East Ham. The drift was gathering pace and by the 1860s the clerk and the shopkeeper desired nothing but a little villa “out of town.” An observer perched on top of Primrose Hill, in 1862, noted that “the metropolis has thrown out its arms and embraced us, not yet with a stifling clutch, but with ominous closeness.’

* * *

Tony Monero (John Travolta) Walks the streets of Brooklyn
Extract from Saturday Night Fever

* * *

Paul Strand
Wall Street (1915)



Verve 2018: save the date

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Verve Poetry Festival is back for a second year! Four more days of electric readings, lively performances, workshops and more from the most exciting poets across the country – it’s all happening at Birmingham’s poetry and spoken word festival.

Thursday, February 15 – Sunday, February 18, 2018
Waterstones Birmingham

Full programme reveal and ticket sales launch November 2017. We’re also running our poetry competition again, so keep your eyes peeled for details on prizes, judges and submission deadlines in the next few weeks. Verve 2018 is going to be even bigger and better, and we can’t wait to welcome you!


  • Feeling generous? Sponsor or donate and we’d love you forever.
  • Curious what all the fuss was about? Check out our official festival photos.
  • Want to be the first to know our news? Follow us on Facebook and Twitter.
  • Fancy joining the team or becoming a partner? Say hello.
  • Wondering who’s behind our festival look and feel? It’s these creative geniuses.

In case you missed it (Verve Day 1)

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Couldn’t make it to Birmingham for the kick off day of Verve? Our fab photographer Thom Bartley was there to capture all the action. The very first event was Poetry Parlour, hosted by Jane Commane, with special guest Daljit Nagra. In addition to the open mics, we also had Susannah Dickey, the winner of our Verve Poetry Competition who read a selection of her fantastic, dazzling poems.

DSC_5299 (1)

DSC_5083Hit the Ode, which normally happens at The Victoria, took over our rolicking Festival Bar stage. Hosted, as always, by Bohdan, it was a two hour treat of slam/beatboxing/freestyle rap/guitar/saxophone by Dizzylez, Jemima Foxtrot and Soweto Kinch (not all at once though).



Don’t miss out on Friday’s events: Kim Moore, Mona Arshi and Katrina Naomi at 7 PM and the Dice Slam at 9!

Shazea’s special Verve cocktail

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Guest blog by Shazea Quraishi

For the past few weeks, I have selflessly dedicated myself to inventing a cocktail to celebrate the inaugural Verve festival.  My first attempts were heavy on concept: that it must be blue; made with vodka because it’s winter; it must be fresh like the language of poetry, with a metallic tang to suggest the taste of ink, and with notes of cardamom to reflect Birmingham’s multicultural character.

A friend stopped by with her little boy and I roped her in as a guinea pig. 4 hours and 5 (or was it 7?) versions later we agreed it was an interesting concept and a terrible drink.  After pouring Rachel and Lucas into an Uber, I started again.   My finger turned blue, but I continued undeterred in my determination to perfect this poem in a glass.

Verve 11

Version 11 was the charm!   It’s fresh as the best language, deceptively simple as a haiku and blue as ink.  Also delicious.  Come and see for yourself at the Verve after-party on Sunday 19th.  I’ll be there and so will the Verve 11.


5 reasons to take a chance on the Dice Slam

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You Have No Idea How It Works
Look, it’s a poetry competition, and they are all more or less the same. The poets perform. After they get off stage, we roll some dice, and whatever comes up is their score. Then, we turn to our judges, who do their best to explain why that score is correct, and reflects the true value of the poem. At the end of the night, the audience votes for their favourite judge.  Simple!

Or, to put it another way, we created a mock contest which allows us to provide breathing space and comic relief in between sets from five incredible poets from across the whole country.

You Have Never Been to a Dice Slam
Festivals are a good time to try new things, and you’ve never been to a Dice Slam before, have you?  Unless you were in the Netherlands when Bernhard Christianssen experimented with the format for the first time, that is. There has only been one Dice Slam in the UK before, here in Birmingham, six years ago. It was a resounding success; we’ve only waited so long to bring it back because we wanted to give the city a chance to recover. You want to be there when it happens.

Incidentally, if you are one of the lucky hundred or so people who attended the first one, you can skip this blog post. We assume you already have your ticket. It’ll be great to see you again.

We Have Not Seen Our Headliners
The five featured poets are all ridiculously talented writers and performers, and will converge on Birmingham from every corner of the country. It will be the first time Sky Hawkins (the North), Toby Campion (the Midlands), Kareem Parkins-Brown (London), Charley Genever (the South East), and Vanessa Kisuule (the South West) share the same stage. You may have seen some of them individually, of course, but the Dice Slam at Verve Festival really is a rare opportunity to check the pulse of poetry on a national scale at a single event. And to stop you feeling homesick, the local touch will be provided by our host, Birmingham’s own poetry powerhouse Amerah Saleh.

You Have Not Met Our Judges
The judges would make for a fantastic poetry line-up in their own right, but they will be there in fate’s corner on the night, scouring their twisted wits for convincing explanations and justifications of random dice rolls. We will hear from Luke Kennard, the widely acclaimed poet and novelist, and Lecturer in Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham; Anna Freeman, a novelist and lecturer in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, as well as a multiple slam-winning performance poet; and Paula Varjack, a writer, filmmaker and performance maker and the creator of the infamous Anti-Slam. Each of them is a bona fide star of contemporary literature and performance – and it’s rare to see those so far out of their comfort zones…

You Have No Love for Competitions
Many people have a strong dislike for competition in the arts. That’s a separate discussion, but the Dice Slam provide an answer: we keep the pomp and circumstance, we keep the appearances of scoring, winning and losing, whilst making it blindingly obvious that not of it has any real meaning beyond providing audiences with space to breathe and laugh in between sets of fantastic poems. There is an argument to be made that this makes the Dice Slam one of the most faithful manifestations of the original poetry slam spirit, as devised my Marc Smith in Chicago in the early eighties. Of course, we’re biased, we have an agenda, we would say that – so don’t take our word for it. Come see for yourself. Book your tickets here.


Our headliners and host
CharleyKareemSkyTobyVanessaEF3A3915 copy