In a six-story Waterstones on Birmingham High Street, Verve Poetry Festival mustered poets and poetry lovers together under hot pink bunting on a blistery February weekend. Old poets, young poets, stage poets, print poets, award-winning poets, punk poets, academic poets, indie press poets, big press poets, international poets, local poets, and those who love them (although, as the poetry community goes, most poetry lovers are also poets, and poets are also poetry lovers – a square and rectangle scenario) congregated in Birmingham. Birmingham! Yes, Birmingham has an absolutely thriving poetry scene. Every seat was filled and it was buzzing.
Having the festival in one place created the atmosphere of a poetry Narnia; upon opening the Waterstones door one entered a magical world inhabited by poets. Verve Poetry Festival, organized by Stuart Bartholomew and Cynthia Miller, truly captured the diversity of the UK poetry scene, appreciating each form for all its greatness.
I attended as a volunteer, busying about in a hot pink t-shit (my favorite color) and sopping up as much poetry as possible. Oh was it possible. Thank you, Elden, for organizing us so well.
Here are a few of my highlights:
The Out-Spoken Press Showcase
Moving and intense, poets Anthony Anaxagorou, Raymond Antrobus, Joelle Taylor, Sabrina Mahfouz, Ollie O’Neil, and Bridget Minamore expressed the challenging parts of life, the heartbreak, the injustice, the pain. I will never forget Joelle Taylor making light of her childhood trauma, only to stop and say, “I’m only making a joke about it because I’m scared,” the fear in exposing the truth of yourself that never goes away.
Out-Spoken are hosting a poetry night in London on March 7th.
I really enjoyed the performances by Salena Godden, Matt Abbott, Maria Ferguson, and Jamie Thrasivoulou. Salena’s poem about how poetry isn’t considered real writing where she said, “Poetry is failed stand up comedy,” got me thinking! Maria Ferguson’s new piece Essex Girl had me caught up and caring about this girl and Sexy Rick. Jamie Thrasivoulou performed a poem called “Distinctly working class” that really captured the class situation in Britain. And Matt Abbott had me right back in Calais when he read his poem. He wrote it two years ago, two years ago! And now the situation has only gotten worse.
Salena Godden is hosting a night for International Women’s Day at Libreria on March 13th.
Mad and Glow
Poets Jacqueline Saphra and Tania Hershman entwined their poems together in a uplifting and warming performance that even had a “chatty bit” and a cup of tea. Two strong women that I admire celebrating their friendship, oh it was like if the Bechdel test had a poetic antidote. I wish they had a talk show. It made me so proud to be in Jackie’s class at the Poetry School.
City Poets Anthology Reading
I found the City Poets reading absolutely fascinating, the multitude of ways the human can be affected by the city. Over fifteen poets read their poems, all so different and all collected in It All Radiates Outward.
Pascale Petit, Hannah Lowe, Sandeep Parmar
Oh these three women were absolutely marvelous to see read, so different their poems and yet together they created a fascinating conversation. Pascale Petit’s love of the Amazon, Hannah Lowe’s musical family history, and Sandeep Parmar’s modern take on Helen of Troy.
Stablemates is a monthly event at the Poetry Society in London, hosted by Jill Abrams. She tends to feature one press and their poets. This event focused on Offord Road Books, a press based in London founded in 2017 by poets Martha Sprackland and Patrick Davidson Roberts. The poets Bobby Parker, James Brookes, and Martha Sprackland read dark, moving poems and I will definitely be reading more of their authors.
In only its second year, Verve is doing something very exciting, and I can’t wait to see what they do next. Actually, I already know what they are doing next – they’ve launched their own poetry press! So I can’t wait to see what they do after that.
Photo Credit: Thom Bartley