Verve Memories: A Vth Edition Special


To commemorate our long-awaited Vth Edition in 2022, we’re taking a look back at all our favourite memories from that last five six years of Birmingham’s beloved festival of spoken word and Poetry. From Waterstones to the Hippodrome, from poems to people, let’s take a walk down memory lane…



we were
Our own Verve ale was brewed by Two Towers Brewery!


Somehow, the festival arrived fully formed in 2017 with minimal funding and a whole bunch of novices running things.

Stuart Bartholomew

Festival Director & Co-Founder


By far one of the most inclusive and well curated poetry events I’ve ever been to.

Anthony Anaxagorou

Performed at Verve 2017


The biggest thing that happened was that a feeling of celebration entered the space and refused to leave. We were thrilled with our festival and everyone else was too. It was lively, fun, joyous, full of feeling. There was loud music and long silences. It felt like it had EVERYTHING!

Stuart Bartholomew

Festival Director & Co-Founder


It felt unbelievable then. It feels unbelievable now. And because of that, it’s something to cherish and look forward to even more fiercely.

Cynthia Miller

Festival Co-Founder

“THANK YOU Verve Poetry Festival and @waterstonesbirmingham we had a BRILLIANT weekend topped off with a lovely showcase by some of our poets. Same time next year we hope? #poetry #vervepoetryfest #petethetemp”

Hosted by Amerah Saleh!

Dice Slam was another (chaotic) highlight, with judges Luke Kennard, Anna Freeman and Dan Simpson justifying slam scores based on the roll of a die.

"Hit the Ode at #VervePoetryFest is going superbly - the tally for light fixture-related injuries currently stands at a measly 4 but I have high hopes for the second half."

@KibriyaTM on Instagram

Our 2017 Anthology published by The Emma Press



we were
"The hypnotic Liz Berry at the last evening 😭 @VervePoetryFest #Verve2018 #rightnow"

@msiagirl on Twitter

"Verve made the earth move. That, or my cold meds are kicking in... #Verve2018 #poetry #earthquake #Birmingham"

@tweetybyrde on Twitter


Verve 2018 was a brilliant, hot pink blur of poetry. And we couldn’t have done it alone. 

Cynthia Miller

Festival Co-director

"Feeling so enlivened by a workshop with Nuar Alsadir @VervePoetryFest @BhamWaterstones - how some of her book is “embarrassing and painful” - it helps us all feel that’s ok! Make your reader bend. Play with time. Play! Top stuff. Top festival #Verve2018"

@HildaSheehan on Twitter


One of my favourite VERVE memories was the Japanese sound poet Tomomi Adachi performing with Hanna Silva.

Thom Bartley

Festival Photographer

This was a world premiere! Adachi had only ever performed solo before VERVE 2018!

Some people are claiming to remember a series of tapes hidden around Waterstones Birmingham in 2018, leading to some sort of poetry secret. We’d just like to take a second to confirm that this never happened and that anyone who says different should remember what happened to verveisfake.

And that photo there is obviously a crude edit of some kind.

"Pretty pleased with my @VervePoetryFest haul this year. Had a lot of the other books already. Plus another couple of beauts that were waiting for me when I got home:-) #Happytimes! #Verve2018"

@stubartholomew on Instagram

Our 2018 Anthology published by OUR BRAND NEW SISTER PRESS


Oh Verve! Thanks to all of you, organisers, volunteers, workshop leader, perfromers, and the Waterstones staff! What can we say? We learned a lot and loved a lot. Here's to next year, Xxx

Liz Mills

Festival Attendee, Facebook


2018 was the year we started hosting events outside the four-day festival, bringing even more AMAZING poets to Birmingham


Before one of your Verve Presents events, I was at the Waterstones till buying Kaveh Akbar’s book and someone said ‘don’t get that it’s terrible', and I turned around and it was Kaveh😂




Tonight I had the privilege of hosting for and sharing the stage with Terrance Hayes. He was genuinely awe inspiring! He was generous enough to spread the word about Wanda Coleman too. Check her out! #Poetry #Verve #BrumTown

Casey Bailey

Verve Poet, Birmingham Poet Laureate (2020-22)



we were


It was about bringing in amazing national and international poets to Birmingham but also providing a stage for the amazing things that were already going on here.

Cynthia Miller

Festival Co-director

2019 saw the first iteration of our annual Performance Lecture in collaboration with Poetry School. As soon as Anthony Anaxagorou took to the stage to break down the politics of performance, we knew we were onto something brilliant…

I was listening and clapping so hard I forgot to take pictures @VervePoetryFest event @the_yoniverse that I only took one at the end of @RupinderKW. You were all amazing! #Verve2019 #vervepoetryfestival and thank you for Samosas and Ladoo too.

Pey Oh

Festival Attendee, Twitter

2019 saw us collaborating with Overhear; VERVE poets recorded poems for local venues and guided people on walking tours around the city collecting and listening to the pieces on the Overhear mobile app.

VERVE 2019 was our most musical festival yet: not just YoniVerse and Funkentelekey but RAP Party too, hosted by Innua Ellums. The event featured amazing local talent and a stellar soundtrack besides.

Some of the performances are immortalised in a  podcast episode hosted by Think/Write/Fly (Adrian B. Earle)

We’re terribly embarrassed to say we had yet another incident of being ambushed at VERVE 2019, this time by the minuscule organisation known as The World’s Smallest Poetry Festival. You might remember them storming the stage to share tiny poems in microscopic voices before being chased away by our noble volunteers…

“Well-and-truly awestruck by @TobyCampion and @kerdonk at #Verve2019. As always I’m kicking myself for not having seen more! Amazing festival. 👏

@MattAbbottPoet on Twitter

"My personal highlight from a brief plunge into #verve2019 yesterday... Excited about the new books from @hatefuldaughter @chakrabsumita and Vahni Capildeo."

@jaywhittapoet on Twitter

We commissioned a full-length show from The Second City Poets, which not only brought the house down at our festival but then went all the way to the Edinburgh Fringe!

We are genuinely honoured to have nabbed some time on the @VervePoetryFest programme this year. The Verve team are hard-working and wonderful humans, and we take our hats off to them for another amazing year of poetry lectures, workshops, and performances. #verve2019

Sabotage Reviews

“I’m now certain this is the only way to end poetry festivals! Incredible

@Funkenteleky show to close #Verve2019 last night – one of the most unique & uplifting poetry shows I’ve seen! ✒️🎷🚀”

Our 2019 competition was on the subject ‘Community’, and was judged by the amazing Joelle Taylor.


A huge thanks to Verve peeps Stuart Bartholomew, @cynthia.wmiller @nelliefayecole and @kibriyatm
To Verve’s dedicated volunteers, to our funksome DJ @fabiojthomas our behind the scenes stalwarts Jessica Syposz and @samuel120994 and to the staff of @theoldreptheatre
Funkenteleky lives! #funkenteleky #musicandpoetry #verve19




Saboteur Awards Best Literary Festival 2019

Our 2019 Anthology selected by Joelle Taylor



we were


Being in a theatre like the Patrick Studio meant we could have all sorts of fun and book shows that shine on a proper stage, the kind of productions we couldn’t have dreamed of hosting in a corner of a bookstore.

Cynthia Miller

Festival Co-director

VERVE 2020 opened with a Spoken Word Super Night, featuring hosts and acts of Word Wise from Derby, Verbose from Manchester, Milk from Bristol, Edinburgh’s Loud Poets – all Super-hosted(?) by our Birmingham’s own Bohdan Piasecki 😍

Jamie Thrasivolou • Matthew Clegg • Zoe Turner • Reshma Ruia • Malika Kegode • Birdspeed • Kevin McLean • Katie Ailes • Beth Calverly

"It was a pleasure to host the event with these cool cats at @VervePoetryFest this evening, at @brumhippodrome ! Here are Rachael Allen, Vidyan Ravinthiran and Jacqueline Saphra chilling in the green room. #Verve2020 #vervepoetryfestival"

@TheEmmaPress on Twitter

"We had such a fantastic time performing at @verve.poetry.festival this weekend! It was an honour to share the stage with three other brilliant U.K.-based poetry nights: @verbosemcr @milk_poetry & Word Wise. Thanks for having us! #vervepoetry #verve2020 #poetryfestival #poetry #spokenword #performancepoetry #gig #show #birmingham #iamloud #loudpoets"

@iamloudpro on Instagram

"My third workshop at #Verve2020 was ‘Nature, Climate and the Poet’, led beautifully by @DerynRJ . We talked about nature, loss, affirmation, hope, the power of questioning. We read poems which will stay with me. And, of course, we wrote. It was a glorious, door-opening session 💚"

@writetoempower on Instagram


Loved doing open mic at the @azaadarts Mehfil event at @verve.poetry.festival this evening. There were some gorgeous poets and musicians... thank you 🙏🏾☺️ #verve2020 #poetry #spokenword #browngirlart



We made the most of our space in the Hippodrome Foyer not only with our Festival Bookshop but by setting up the amazing Beth Calverly aka The Poetry Machine, writing personalised poems for folks the whole festival.

"So I’m at ⁦ @VervePoetryFest ⁩ #Verve2020 this afternoon here ⁦ @brumhippodrome ⁩ . And I had a poem written for me. Was taken by surprise how emotional it was to have it read to me. Might have cried a bit."

@Fiona_Allan on Twitter

Our annual Performance Lecture in collaboration with Poetry School returned in 2020, this time with the amazing Yomi Sode. Once again, we were so proud to be giving a platform for discussions of The Big Questions around poetry.

Verve 2020 - Best Of-401

A gorgeously curated mixture of readings, music and film, From the Margins to the Centre: Black British Poets from the Midlands was a true poetry party – and what better place for a poetry party than the Verve mainstage?


Really enjoyed the lyricism, rhythms and visuals of ‘From the Margins to the Centre: Black British Poets from the Midlands’ feat. Sue Brown, Marcia Calame, Siana Bangura and Adrian B Earle



Festival Attendee, Twitter

We had another high-energy performance from LIVEwire, the recordings of which can be found on the VerseFirst YouTube Channel!

"So the week begins with this amazing combo after an enriching weekend of spoken word and poetry and a chance to jump on open mic again - thank you @verve.poetry.festival. You took me from 4 weeks of writer’s block to being inspired to write 4 poems in 24 hours ✍🏾🎤💫 #verve2020"

@brwngirlinthering on Instagram


Being in a theatre like the Patrick Studio meant we could have all sorts of fun and book shows that shine on a proper stage, the kind of productions we couldn’t have dreamed of hosting in a corner of a bookstore.

Cynthia Miller

Festival Co-director

Heather Phillipson’s show Whip-hot and Grippy was a gem to have at the festival – Heather incorporated sound and video into an extended reading of her 2019 Bloodaxe collection.

Another brilliant weaving of music, poetry, storytelling and verbatim interviews, A Beautiful Way to be Crazy by Genevieve Carver & The Unsung was glorious.

Our competition for 2020 was on the theme ‘Diversity’, judged by the wonderful Andrew McMillan.

It's been a wild few days @verve.poetry.festival - I'm still marinating in all the shattering, funny, true words I heard over three great days.

A special thanks to everyone at Verve for putting on a great festival, and to Andrew for judging the competition, editing the book and hosting the launch event. Here's to Verve 2021!
#Poetry #Disability #Books #Festivals #Verve2020

Karl Knights

3rd Prize Winner, Verve Competiion 2020

Our 2020 Anthology selected by Andrew McMilllan



In 2021, VERVE Poetry Festival took a year off due to the COVID-19 pandemic. We didn’t disappear off the Earth though, and we cannot wait to show you what we spent 2021 planning when we explode back onto the scene in February 2022…

In February 2021, VERVE Team members Cynthia Miller, Stuart Bartholomew and Kibriya Mehrban shared some reflections on the festival’s past, which you can read on Cynthia’s blog:


We can’t put together a page about the history of VERVE without taking a moment to thank all the amazing people who have put in time money and effort to make it the brilliant blur of chaos it it.

To VERVE Team past and present, we don’t need to tell you what you’ve done for us – thank you for being mad enough to do it.

To every single volunteer who has donned a pink shirt in the five years we’ve been going – the festival would be impossible without you and we are so glad you decided to join us.

Thank you for selling books, taking photos, delivering water bottles and wrapping a million paper wristbands around a million wrists.

To all the poets and performers, for bringing your talents to the VERVE stage, sharing your wisdom with us in workshops and spreading the word of VERVE in all the disparate corners your travel to.

To the staff at Waterstones Birmingham, The Old Rep & The Hippodrome – thank you for letting us take over your spaces, putting up with all our noise and bunting, following along with all our tech requests and letting us use your office photocopiers in a pinch.

And finally thanks to you. Whether you’ve been here since the beginning or are just about to buy you’re first ticket, we are so happy to have you here and we hope you stick around with us wherever we go next!