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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

Hit the Ode Banner New

5 Reasons to Hit the Ode

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You Like Bad Puns (and Believe in the Global Reach of Art)
Yes, let’s get this out of the way: Hit the Ode is a groan-worthy play on “hit the road”.  Hopefully it sets the tone for an event which does not take itself too seriously, and helps the poems shine in comparison. But the name also points at the unique nature of UK’s only regular poetry night which features international guests every month as part of its format. We’ve had guest from five continents so far, and we’ve discovered that even for poets – especially for poets? – language is no barrier at all. Come and find out for yourself.

It’s A Really Good Time (And We Have Proof)
Just watch this, will you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vtOJOGkyz-c&t=84s

We Have Three Incredible Guest Poets (Who Are Also Musicians)
From the Midlands, Soweto Kinch: the man who embodies the Brummie renaissance, a lyricist, playwright, poet, rapper and saxophone virtuoso in one tight package. http://www.soweto-kinch.com/

From outside the Midlands, Jemima Foxtrot: writer, theatre-maker, performer and musician, Jemima’s makes the distinction between song and poetry irrelevant. https://jemimafoxtrot.co.uk/

From beyond these Isles, Dizzylez: rapper, poet, percussionist, loop-pedal master, this French jack-of-all-trades creates layered narratives in front of your very eyes. http://www.dizzylez.com/

You Can Perform Alongside Them (You Know You Want To)
The open mic at Hit the Ode is one of the best things about the night. A mix between experienced pros and talented first-timers, it is an unpredictable quick-fire poetry roulette – and it is also, for everyone’s protection, time-limited. Best of all, it is really, really open – so for your chance at a slot, email Bohdan Piasecki (bohdan@applesandsnakes.org) and you might just get the chance to share your work with the world.

We’ve Been Around for a While (So We Know What We’re Doing)
Hit the Ode is now well past its sixth birthday, and it’s not too much of a stretch to say we’ve become a bit of a name here in Birmingham. With good reason: over the years, we’ve refined the formula. We know exactly what track to play to interrupt those who would test our time limits; we’re familiar with emotional health and safety procedures, and apply them liberally; our instant poet kits make for coveted raffle prizes. But most importantly, we know when to stop messing about and let the poetry speak for itself. We have good poems. Come hear them.

Myths and Monsters

Emma Wright on the importance of poetry for children

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Back in 2014, when Rachel and I decided to start publishing poetry for children, our general reasoning was that we’d always wanted to publish children’s books and that young readers of poetry were more likely to become older readers of poetry. We also conjectured that if young readers kept enjoying poetry into their teens then they were more likely to be able to transition into reading poetry for adults, instead of baulking at the jump between simple, straightforward poems aimed at 6-year-olds and more complex, knotty poems for adults. We felt politely passionate about it.

Since 2014, we’ve published three collections of children’s poetry (aimed at readers aged 8+) and run dozens of readings and workshops for children, including our Arts Council-supported nationwide Myths and Monsters tour in 2015. We’ve got our first collection of translated children’s poetry coming out in July, and Rachel is about to start teaching a course on writing poems for children at the Poetry School.

Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 20.47.51And now I want to scream passionately into everyone’s faces: ‘Poetry is REALLY IMPORTANT for children and we NEED TO TRY HARDER to get children reading and writing poetry.’ I’ve learned more about children’s literacy and I’ve seen first-hand the empowering effect that creating a poem can have on a child. I’ve also thought a lot about who literature ‘belongs’ to, and how sad and unfair it is that some rich, wonderful areas of human endeavour might be ruled out for some people because they feel it isn’t ‘for’ them.

If we learn how to read and love poetry while we’re young, and we continue to have access to poetry which feels ‘ours’ all the way from childhood through school, we might just retain into adulthood the feeling that poetry is something we enjoy and can turn to when we feel like it or need it. I can’t say ‘Poetry will ease your way into positions of power and privilege’ or ‘Poetry increases the chances of home ownership by the age of 25’, but I can say that reading and writing poetry enhances our understanding of the possibilities of language and the nuances of human expression and communication, all of which feels very important for success and happiness in life – too important to be reserved for the privileged few.

I’ve programmed some fantastic free readings and poetry-writing workshops at Verve next weekend (18-19th February), in addition to an open mic event for children (reserve places here!) and I hope that the children who attend will come away with the feeling that poetry is, or continues to be, for them.

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Calling all bookworms and budding poets!

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If you know of any know any children aged 6+ who love books, reading and writing, Verve Poetry Festival is the place for them this February half-term. We have a lively programme of children’s writing events at Waterstones Birmingham on 18 – 19 February.

On Saturday, 18 February and Sunday, 19 February, the best local and national children’s poets like Emma Purshouse, Rachel Piercey, Kate Wakeling, Sarah Crossan, Brian Conaghan and Richard O’Brien will dazzle, delight and inspire all those young Shakespeares and Byrons.

Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 20.45.32They can listen to brilliant poetry performances, bring a poem to read at our Little Tyke Open Mic or join one our lively writing workshops and write a poem about space, aliens, myths or monsters, with plenty of prompts and feedback from our poets.

The best part? All children’s events are free! What better way to spend your weekend with your family? Places are limited, so book your tickets here.

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All events will take place on the dedicated children’s floor (Floor 3) of recently refurbished Waterstones Birmingham, a bright and cosy space perfect for curling up for a reading or scribbling away. The new Children’s floor opened in November 2015 and is chock full of children’s books for every age and taste. It has its own café and plenty of seating so you can drink and read to your heart’s content! Have you visited yet?

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These children events have been lovingly curated by The Emma Press, a poetry publisher that delights in making poetry fun and accessible to children of all ages. Verve Poetry Festival is Birmingham’s first poetry and spoken word festival that features a range of poetry, spoken word, unique performances, lively workshops, open mic opportunities and more.

There’s a new look to Sunday at Verve

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We have made some changes to our programme for Sunday 19th Feb at Verve.

Most notably, Melissa Lee-Houghton has had to pull out of the festival for personal reasons. This has left a hole in the programme, as Melissa was due to run a workshop in the afternoon as well as reading at the evening headline event alongside Penned In The Margins stable-mate and Birmingham based Luke Kennard, and excellent Bloodaxe poet Shazea Quraishi.

It is a hole we have been working hard these last few days to plug, and plug it we have. Shazea Quraishi was thrilled to be asked to run a workshop in Melissa’s place from 1-3 PM. While Melissa was going to be getting her workshoppers to focus on the idea of writing to, Shazea will instead focus on writing as.  Here’s the blurb…

Writing what you don’t know
In this workshop we will explore the endless possibilities that open up when the I in the poem is not you. Taking inspiration from persona poems by Carol Ann Duffy, T.S. Eliot and others, you will be encouraged to slip into someone else’s skin and imagine their truth. New poems will be generated through writing exercises.

We think this sounds like an phenomenal workshop and are so pleased that Shazea has come to our rescue.  There are still a couple of places left, so grab one while you still can.

For the evening headline event, we decided to ask to excellent Ruby Robinson to read for us in Melissa’s place, and we have to say we were thrilled to bits when she agreed. Ruby has had an glorious year on the back of having her first collection, Every Little Sound, published by Pavillion Poetry – being short-listed for the Felix Dennis Prize for best first collection and the T.S. Eliot Prize. Collette Bryce wrote, ‘Every Little Sound is an extraordinary first collection from a very gifted young poet.’ We are so excited to hear Ruby read and feel she has added something to our evening headline event that it didn’t possess before. It will be a wonderful reading.

Ruby Robinson

Here’s a little more about the newest poet joining our Sunday headline event: Ruby Robinson was born in Manchester in 1985 and grew up in Sheffield and Doncaster. She studied English Literature at the University of East Anglia and has an MA from Sheffield Hallam University, where she won the Ictus Prize for poetry. Her poems have appeared in The Poetry Review, Poetry (Chicago) and elsewhere. Her debut collection ‘Every Little Sound’ was published this year by Pavilion Poetry, an imprint of Liverpool University Press (edited by Deryn Rees-Jones) and was shortlisted for the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection and the T.S. Eliot Prize.

These changes, we feel, have had a minimal impact on the calibre of our Sunday programme. We still have excellent showcases from both Burning Eye Books and Nine Arches Press; Podium Poets slots from slam genius Jasmine Gardosi and poets’ favourite, Geraldine Clarkson; workshop opportunities with Clive Birnie and Jane Commane and a drum and beats poetic happening with Antosh Wojcik. Not to mention our Brum Stanza breakfast and a morning performance from some local up and coming poets courtesy of our friends at Beatfreeks. There are great value Sunday passes still left, but they are going fast – why not grab one and come and see it all!?  

One last change on the Sunday to mention is our decision to replace the 9-11pm Anti-Slam event with a Verve Poetry Festival after party. We have done this for a number of reasons, the main one being that for many such a late final event on the Sunday was proving difficult to attend. We learned this lesson and have taken action accordingly. All who are still with us after the Kennard, Quraishi and Robinson reading are welcome to join us in the store cafe bar for an hour or two to toast what we hope will have been a successful festival, listen to some music and have a good old poets’ chin-wag. We hope you are keen to join us.

Verve is less than two weeks away. We can hardly wait!