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
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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)
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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…?


First stop, a podium, next stop the poetry stratosphere: who are the Verve Podium Poets?

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We wanted Verve to be able to feature a whole range of poets, from those just starting out to those already arrived. And of course, we still wanted to include the full range of poetry makers, from performance, to page and everything in between.

The idea for Poets on a Podium came about because there are a number of poets in the area who quite simply had to be included. They don’t yet have collections out (although some are very close and have pamphlets in print). But they are poets of such calibre that we just know they are heading places. They are the West Midlands equivalent of The Poetry Book Society’s Next Generation Poets!

We wanted to give these poets a platform at Verve – a chance to show the festival audience what they can do – an individual showcase if you like. So each of them have been given their own 15 minute slot, in an intimate space at the back of our main festival floor, in pockets of time that sit between the main festival stage events we have going on. These solo readings show us what’s next for poetry, not only in the region, but nationally too, because they will have national impact, these poets.

There is limited audience space for these special events, with seat numbers limited to a cosy 30. And to make things worse, we have halved the entry price too, to a stupidly reasonable £3. So book early! You don’t want to miss these wonderful and intimate events! Buy your tickets here:

A little more about each Podium Poet

Helen Calcutt (2.30-2.45pm Saturday). I first saw Helen reading at The ORT café in Balsall Heath as part of Richard Skinner’s travelling Vanguard series of poetry nights. Her pamphlet, Sudden Rainfall, is full of gloriously evocative poems which really stay with you (it was shortlisted for the PBS pamphlet choice award), but she performs so well too, bringing a strange quality of peace and deep meaning with her into the space. Her first full collection is in preparation now, and I fully expect it to land with explosive intensity when it finally arrives. You don’t want to miss this.

Amerah Saleh (5.00-5.15pm Saturday). My first encounter with Amerah was when she kindly stepped in to interview Kate Tempest for us at an event we had with her at Waterstones. But I’d heard what an amazing performer of her poetry she is, and managed to catch her soon after supporting Polar Bear at the wonderful Howl Spoken Word Night in Moseley. She didn’t disappoint in the least – combining languages and performing with such focus and charged emotional impact – she is an absolute must see for poetry lovers at Verve.

Jasmine Gardosi (2.30-2.45 Sunday). I saw Jasmine perform in the strangely intense setting of the Birmingham Laureate audition process, and her performance, even in that confined space, was spell-binding. You can see straight away why she is a multiple slam champion. She has such confidence as she performs, and each word lands with perfect precision, on and off the beat. Used to larger stages than the one we are providing her with at Verve, come braced to be blown clean off your seats by this excellent poetry show-woman.

Geraldine Clarkson (5.00-5.15 Sunday). Geraldine is everywhere at the moment – a regular winner of national poetry competitions, and her pamphlet, Declare, is a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice. I saw her read earlier in the year as part of Nine Arches Press and The Poetry School’s inaugural Primers selection of poets – her poem, Love Cow, has stayed with me ever since. She is that rare breed of poet who sees things from angles nobody else does and by doing so enable us to understand things a whole lot better. Her collection, currently in the making, will make vast poetic waves when it hits.

In many ways, these four poets picked themselves for Poets on a Podium. I’m thrilled that we have them to show you at Verve. You will get very different things from each of them, but you will leave feeling that poetry, in the West Midlands and beyond, is in excellent hands!


Call for Volunteers

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

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

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

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

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

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


Verve at Waterstones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Poetry and the art of gentle interrogation

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

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

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

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

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

Roz Goddard


Enter our comp

Hannah Silva’s advice

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If you know what you are going to write before you start writing there’d be no need to write it. I think it’s the same with the judging: if I knew what I was looking for they’d be no point you entering. So these are just general thoughts. Please surprise yourself and hopefully me too.

Write a poem that only you could have written. That might be because it’s about a particular place where you grew up. Might be because the way you use language is distinctive to you. It’s your way of looking at the world. You can interpret the brief freely, there’s no need to crowbar into your poem vocabulary such as ‘Birmingham’ ‘Broad Street’ and ‘The Bull Ring’… Be original, a city isn’t just a bunch of locations…there are lots of people in it (such as you). Your Birmingham might be the Birmingham of dreams, of the future, after the apocalypse, before it was called Birmingham, as seen through a magic kaleidoscope… or through a bin bag the seagulls have been at again.

You can also submit via audio recording. It’s great that this is an option but a good poem works well on the page and in performance. Very occasionally a poem (such as one that uses sounds instead of words) can only work in performance. If you’ve made such a poem then please submit a recording too and I’ll realise that the poem is made for the ear not the eye and will listen carefully.

I look forward to reading your poems, and perhaps being surprised/impressed/entertained/astonished/disturbed/delighted/moved/shocked/upset/informed /seduced/perturbed/mortified/stunned/perplexed/disconcerted/floored/unnerved/aroused/stupefied/flabbergasted…. I very much doubt anyone can do all that in the one poem, but if you can, congratulations, you’ve won.