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!