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.
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.
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! 😊