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Poetry Parlour with Imtiaz Dharker: Live Blog – Nina Lewis

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Nina reflects on the opening event of Verve 2018.

Launching with the Poetry Parlour, Verve got off to a stunning start. Introduced by Cynthia Miller the Parlour had a warm and inviting atmosphere, she invited us to ‘chill, lie back and listen’. A packed room enjoyed the first step into the weekend.

It started with an open mic section which saw established and up and coming poets as well as undiscovered local talent. This is exactly what Verve set out to do and it is always great to see newcomers at the festival.

Jane Commane and Imtiaz Dharker took to the stage, watching two Bloodaxe Poets in conversation was a real treat. Jane shared her love of Imtiaz’s poetry – after reading a poem in the paper over a decade ago, her mum bought her ‘A Terrorist at My Table’ and she has been a fan ever since. Following an insightful introduction, Jane encouraged us to make space on our Top 10 Poets lists and to make space on our bookshelves too.

IMTIAZImtiaz Dharker’s reading was magical. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to the selection of poems. Her use of rhythm and language, her touches of gentle humour, the tales of where the poems had come from and how the writing evolved. Imtiaz shared parts of her childhood, growing up in Scotland, how using form (Sonnet) enabled her to finish a poem which had proved tricky. Those poems that are hard to write are something poets know all about. I watched a few people scribbling her ‘gold dust’ down. It was a generous sharing of knowledge and experience.

Following the reading there was a Q&A with Jane. These are always exceptional, Jane (and I don’t know how she does it… a mix of experience, wisdom and some magic of her own) composes the most brilliant questions and skillfully leads the conversation. There was talk of the thread running through Imtiaz’s work and what impact that had on compiling the collection. Imtiaz talked about the echo and how you naturally find connections between poems.

“The themes/threads come to your fingers, your mind and tongue.” – Imtiaz Dharker.

The Poetry Parlour closed with a final poem. Referred to by Jane Commane as a ‘poetry nightcap’. Imtiaz certainly writes end-lines to take your breath away. It is no surprise that she is the winner of the Queen’s Gold Medal and that Carol Ann Duffy suggests she would be the World Laureate, if such a title existed.

The end of it was like coming out of a meditation which you did not want to leave. I think we all agreed we could have listened to her poetry all night. Cynthia Miller got it spot on with ‘absolutely enchanting.’

Afterwards finding Imtiaz’s collections was easy, Verve are streets ahead with bookseller organisation, of course they are, they are based in Waterstones! The Festival books are all shelved together, right beside the till point and after you have your treasure in hand the book signing table is right next to the counter. Reading poetry after you have heard it from the poet is incredibly satisfying and Imtiaz’s voice will linger in my head for some time.

The Poetry Parlour was a pleasant, soft entry into what is sure to be another storming festival for the Verve Team.

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Hit the Ode Tech Special: Live Blog – Nina Lewis

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Nina Lewis, Verve’s in-house blogger over the festival, reflects on what the hell happened at Hit the Ode Tech Special last night (I was completely lost too, then I read this blog).

HTO is a much acclaimed night brought to us by Aliyah Hasinah, Apples & Snakes. From the soft sheen of the Poetry Parlour to the rampaging arena of Hit the Ode, where tech and poetry met sensationally in raucous union. Anyone who has been before (about half the audience), knows they’re LIVELY events, foot stamping and high emotion encouraged.

The atmosphere was set to ‘buzz’ straight away as host, Bohdan Piasecki led us through a roller-coaster of audience initiated emotions in the traditional ‘Emotional Warm Up’. Frenzied audience ready, standard comedic rants delivered (Uber Taxis and Football), the open mic section began. A mixture of veteran performers, new faces and one young poet who had NEVER performed before!

HTO has three headliners: Local, National and International. They have never had a poet from Japan. What was about to take place in Waterstones was something not many people had ever seen the like of and the only sound to come close to matching it was the collective noise of a room full of Festival goers having their minds blown simultaneously. I am of course talking about the powerhouse that is Tomomi Adachi.

I saw a bit of the tech rehearsal, had I not been privy to this experience, I am not sure what I would have made of Tomomi’s work. Incredible does not cover it, prodigious does. The audience were certainly mesmerised.

Tomomi’s initial poem, performed in Japanese, demonstrated amazing voice work as he sped through fast-forward rate, barely taking breath, inhalations disappearing as he performed at an Olympic speed. Something to behold. His second poem inspired from a theatre piece saw a fascinating treatment of cadence and inclination, testimony to the size of this man’s diaphragm! He made use of the pace, occasional comic timing – ‘I think we have met somewhere before’ and dramatic pauses. If you weren’t there it is hard to describe, imagine you are in a room with 100 TVs all set to a different advert playing at the same time and you will have an inkling of the layering involved in Tomomi’s exceptional sound masterpiece.

HIT THE ODEThen came the wearable tech! Every movement moderated his voice, we watched in amazement. The audience both shocked and transfixed by his work. At the interval, Bohdan invited us ‘to go and find a corner and think about what just happened!’ The audience was certainly divided into overwhelmed and dazed.

‘That was so new what we just heard.’ Festival goer.

Barely recovered, we were onto the second part of the evening, a collaborative work ‘Pluto’ with Hannah Silva and Tomomi Adachi. I was excited to see Hannah back at Verve. She was my first experience of Voice poetry (2015). She was incredibly nervous to perform with the best sound poet in the world. Tomomi has been using wearable tech for a decade compared to just over a week for Hannah. He agreed to the collaboration, proof he believed in her ability to work alongside him and he was not wrong.

What followed was a spectacle, a World Première of the 2nd red shirt and their work ‘Pluto’. A world of precise movement, tech, dance and poetry collide. A mime of insects crawling up an arm, little voices coming from nowhere, playing with pace, loops, singing and phonetics. The duets reminded me of a more fluid version of Robotic dancing (a big deal in the 80s). The way these two artists manipulated sound. Wow. An intense exploration with moments of pure play and if all this wasn’t enough, with wired shirts they even managed to swap places on stage!

Pluto: A masterful performance feat, superb!

More open mics started the third section, including the Birmingham University Slam Team Champions demonstrating why they won the recent competition with a piece inspired by Hannah Silva’s Verve workshop last year.

And then… Yomi Sode, who blew me away with his performance. A feast of words that I wanted serving all night. His performance took elements from his show Coat and involved a more familiar use of tech, the sound-scape with spoken word layered on top. He treated us to three poems and seemed to feel ‘unworthy’ of the tech element after what we had all just witnessed. In reality his set was the perfect ending to the evening. It left us wanting more.

I loved ‘What the Living Do’ and ‘The Void’. He talked about his show, the connection to his family and cooking. Yomi invited us to close our eyes and take it all in, feel the sway of poetry. His dramatic monologue had all the right ingredients.

His hip-hop vibe to conclude the evening was a high note to go out on. Usually I cringe at audience participation, but there was nothing wrong with Yomi’s call to respond. I thoroughly enjoyed his final poem ‘Okay, okay, okay…check the situation.’ echoing in my ears all the way back home.

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Dead or Alive Slam!

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A preposterous, reason defying spoken word competition, pitting living poets against their dead predecessors, re-animated for this one night just for your entertainment. Watch Team Life, comprised of Genevieve Carver, Isiah Hull and Caroline Teague, take on Team Death, featuring Christina Rossetti, Forough Farrokhzad, and Djuna Barnes (brought to life by Tembi Xena, Lorna Nickson Brown, and Zeddie Lawal). Judges from the audience will determine who wins, assigning numerical values to poems in an entirely meaningless attempt to instill reason into an event challenging the order of things.

In other words, this is your chance to hear poetry from six incredible poets, interpreted by brilliant performers, all in an exciting and accessible format, as part of the altogether brilliant Verve poetry festival. Do yourself a favour and do not miss this.

The night will be hosted by the all-powerful Amerah Saleh.

Friday – 8:30pm

Tickets £6 / £4, available online and on the door.

JS at Verve

A few Words with Jacqueline Saphra

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We caught up with T.S. Eliot prize-shortlisted poet Jacqueline Saphra to ask her a few questions about poetry, music and Verve. She is performing on Sunday with Tania Hershman as part of Mad & [or?] Glow. She also came second in this year’s Verve poetry competition, so will be reading at the City Poems event on Saturday. On top of this, she will feature in the Verve City Poems anthology, which will include a selection of the poets who submitted to the competition and read at the event. I think it’s fair to say that we love Jacqueline and her work, and are furiously happy to have her involved with so many parts of this year’s festival. 

VERVE: Can you remember writing your first poem? If so what was it about?

JS: Yes, I vividly remember it. I was five or six years old. It was called ‘The Daisy’ and I still have it by heart. It was incredibly (now I look back on it) in blank verse and I remember how much I loved writing it, which should have been a sign! But after that I went on a journey through songwriting, prose, playwriting, screenwriting and even standup comedy before I rediscovered my love of poetry and realized that was where I had belonged all along.


If I Lay on my Back I saw Nothing but Naked Women has featured some musical accompaniment in the past. What relationship do you see between poetry and music and when did you first start reading your poems to a musical backdrop?

Poetry and music are blood sisters I think. But poetry is its own music so great care must be taken when it’s combined with music. My collaborator, the composer Benjamin Tassie, who loves poetry, is very sensitive to that and works very intuitively and smartly with the written word. He created musical ‘miniatures’ for live cello and piano to go with the prose poems in If I Lay on my Back I Saw Nothing but Naked Women and succeeded in enhancing them. It’s probably easier to do that with prose poems because although they have their own internal music it’s often less pronounced than the music of poem poems.

Still, Benjamin and I also created a show from All My Mad Mothers my new collection from Nine Arches.  Benjamin electronically looped the cello tracks from the ‘Naked Women’ and combined them with live piano. It helps that we know each other very well now, and that Benjamin can really get inside the poems and give them an extra dimension rather than distracting or competing. It’s a tribute to his musical intelligence! We employed Tamar Saphra, my daughter, (who is handily a theatre director), to help us and we performed the show at The Ledbury Festival last year. These are exciting times for poetry; collaboration and genre-crossing is happening more and more: poetry combined with dance, music, visual art, and film for example. This helps poetry to expand its audiences beyond literature lovers and enriches the art form – that’s definitely part of my personal poetic mission.


Where were you when you found out about your T.S Eliot shortlist?

I was sitting at the kitchen table doing something really boring to do with accounts and I received a message from Jane Commane, my editor at Nine Arches Press, asking if I’d had ‘an important email’. The prize was not even on my radar, so I had no idea what she was talking about. There followed a fairly protracted text message correspondence because she was in a reading at the time! Eventually, after she’d advised me to sit down and pour myself a glass of something, she told me the book had been shortlisted. I actually couldn’t breathe, it was so surprising and amazing.  What an adventure being part of that shortlist of exceptional poets! I’ve enjoyed myself hugely being interviewed on Radio London and Sky TV and I had the time of my life up on that huge stage at the Festival Hall in front of the biggest audience I could hope for. It’s been an honour and a privilege.


How has ‘Mad & Glow’ progressed since its debut in Swindon last year? Have you got anything special lined up for Verve 2018?

We have indeed. Tania Hershman (great Nine Arches poet and short story star) and I realized when we read at the Nine Arches Christmas party in 2016 that we have similar preoccupations although our styles are quite different. We both come from a theatre background and really love collaborating. We created a show juxtaposing and sharing our work (you may not be able to tell whose work you are hearing) with the help of Tamar Saphra again. So useful having a director in the family! It’s great to be onstage with another person; the chemistry is so different and the result is dynamic. We relished the show’s first outing at the Swindon Poetry Festival and since then we’ve worked on expanding and deepening the material, which goes darker now, but retains its sense of humour. There are sandwiches, a bit of audience interaction (nothing scary) and a few theatrical surprises. We’re thrilled to be performing at Verve; can’t wait actually!


What makes a good poetry reading?

I always think about the arc and flow of my reading and loosely plan my introductions. I rehearse. I mostly memorise my poems as that helps me feel confident and also provides new insights for me about my own work almost every time, which keeps it fresh. I think good preparation shows a respect for the audience, who are giving up their time and money to come and see me and I believe an audience knows the difference.

I went on a residential course called ‘Freeing the Poet’s Voice’ a few years ago, with the renowned voice coach, Kristen Linklater. It was revelatory. She was the one who taught me the benefits of memorising my poems. But more importantly, I finally understood the importance of the poet inhabiting her poems as she reads them. It’s an act of courage and faith to do that. I can tell if a poet is truly engaging with their own words at a reading, and if they are, they will always hold my attention. There’s nothing more thrilling than hearing a poet read their poems and really commit to what they are reading.


Who are you most looking forward to seeing at Verve 2018?

I can’t wait to hear my amazing editor and publisher Jane Commane reading from her debut collection from Bloodaxe, ‘Assembly Lines’. But there’s so much to love at Verve. Asha Lul Mohamud Yusuf reading with her translator, the poet Clare Pollard from ‘The Sea Migrations’ will be so exciting. And what about the dream team of Pascale Petit, Hannah Lowe and Sandeep Parmar, three brilliant women? There’s an embarrassment of riches happening at the festival. It’s going to be wonderful.


Jaqueline will be performing with fellow Nine Arches poet Tania Hershman as ‘Mad and Glow’ on Sunday at 11:00pm. She will also read at the City Poems event, on Saturday. You can purchase tickets here.

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Lauching the Verve Poetry Press

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It has been a discussion point regionally for years that Birmingham poets can sometimes struggle to find an obvious route onto the national stage and into being published.

When Cynthia Miller and I launched Verve Poetry Festival in February last year, this was one of the questions we were trying to answer.  As well as trying to address the questions of why big poets rarely came to Birmingham, why spoken word and page poets rarely appear together, and what city centre based poetry events should look like, we also wanted people from outside of Birmingham to see OUR poets, and gave slots to Amerah Saleh, Jasmine Gardosi, Helen Calcutt, Roy McFarlane, Bethany Slinn, to name a few and also had open mic opportunities at the festival for others.

We have been stunned at how popular this mixture has proven in terms of the festival and how happy people have been with our full spectrum of poetry approach, where beginners can rub shoulders with top name poets, where audiences, sexes and cultures mash and engage with each other. The festival worked, but one thing we thought might follow from the festival – namely more Birmingham poets (particularly on the performance side of things) getting recognition outside of the city and finding their work being published – hasn’t materialised. This is shocking when you consider the quality of the performance poets the city possesses – names such as Amerah Saleh, Jasmine Gardosi, Casey Bailey, Leon Priestnall, Aliyah Holder, Nafeesa Hamid, Rupinder Kaur, Sean Colletti – the majority also representative of the many minority cultures that add such vitality and energy to Birmingham as a city. So this year, along with co-founder Amerah, we decided that if the right things weren’t going to happen at any great speed, then we had to do it.

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Verve Poetry Press launches this year, and our first book will come out on Feb 8th –  the wonderful Poetry Jam’s 5th Birthday Anthology. This book will contain a glorious mixture of poetry by Poetry Jam regulars, chosen by the community for the community. The book will launch as part of Poetry Jam’s 5th Birthday celebrations at Birmingham’s spectacular Town Hall, and will be available to buy at the event as well as from the Verve Poetry Press website and Waterstones in Birmingham (including at Verve Poetry Festival 2018). All profits from the anthology will go towards keeping Poetry Jam alive and thriving well into the future.

Poetry Jam

So what are we publishing? In April we will publish Amerah’s much anticipated first book of poetry (titled I am not from here) and a debut full collection from Casey – Adjusted. As these works move steadily through the editing process, it is already clear that these will be stunning books of poetry – thoughtful, moving, vastly imaginative. In June, we will put out Leon’s debut poetry book, sure to be another stormer, and a collection from Nafeesa which we are extremely excited about. Other discussions are taking place, with the aim of putting out no less than eight collections a year. We will publish a City Poems Anthology in February 2018 off the back of the Verve Poetry Festival competition, titled It All Radiates Outwards, and a Birmingham Poets Anthology in February 2019 to coincide with Verve 2019. We are also likely to launch an experimental pamphlet series in 2019.

Our Midlands Poets Series of collections, focussing heavily on the Birmingham poetry scene, will be new and fresh. We will invite important guest editors to edit a section of the work with the poets. (Casey was booked in for two days of editing input from none other than Raymond Antrobus in January.) We will feature a poem from each of three upcoming local poets picked by the poet in each collection. Like Verve Poetry Festival, our Press will have bright and colourful design and a glorious, vibrant look. All books will retail at £9.99 and contain 60-80 pages of wonderful, lively and challenging poetry.

Our poets are already wonderful performers, fully able blow you away with performances and readings of their work. Through Verve Poetry Press they will show that they can write too. 

So watch out poetry world! Verve Poetry Press is coming, and the world of poetry might never be the same again! 😊

Order Verve Poetry Press books here. 

Verve & Hit the Ode Tech Special

Verve & Hit the Ode: Tech Special

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Ahhh we’ve all been there. Stood behind the microphone at Hit the Ode, knowing you’ve been going now for about 4 and a half minutes. Your poem’s going really well and it’s about to get EVEN BETTER and the crowd are about to go mental for your simile about marmite and then-

If you were an automated poetry machine you would never make these mistakes. Never face the shame imposed by Bohdan and his accomplice DJ Grit and Grind for straying over your 5-minute open mic slot. Never had to bow your head and walk somberly off the stage to Foreigner’s ‘I Wanna Know What Love Is’. If you were an automated poetry machine your poem would have evoked the perfect balance of 87.3% melancholy peppered with the crucial 4% fear in your audience. Splendid.

Well, whilst Hit the Ode‘s Tech Special may still occasionally embarrass you with out of context pop songs, it will not – thankfully – be showcasing Apple’s new range of automated poetry machines. We at Verve have real, live poets with thoughts, feelings, poems and no aptitude for calculating audience reaction in percentage form.

Our three featured poets for the event – Tomomi Adachi, Yomi Sode & Hannah Silva – all use technology in their performances. These poets bend technology to their will, using it to inform, enhance and warp their words. They achieve what Tomomi Adachi describes as ‘an intermediary between poetry and music, and it doesn’t mean poetry plus music, its something in between.’ Take a listen below.

There are eight open mic slots available on a first-come, first served basis. These will be allocated by our in-house Time and Attendance Bot. If you still need to bag yourself a ticket, then take a wee digital trip across the ether and talk to our ticking man – Mr. E. Vent-Bright. He will be happy to provide you with a ticket for what he considers to be a very reasonable rate: £6 / £4.


‘Infrared Sensor Shirt’ – Tomomi Adachi 


‘Prosthetics’ – Hannah Silva


‘Okay Not to be Okay’ – Yomi Sode 

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