Verve Poetry Festival
I cannot express how excited I am that Birmingham finally has a poetry festival. It was the brainchild of a renown collective and blends spoken word and page poetry perfectly, as it should be. Poetry is such a small part of the universe that to segregate it further has always seemed a little absurd to me. Candy Royalle is a firm believer that ‘poet’ covers it.
They don’t actually name themselves: Stuart Bartholomew (the God of Waterstones), Cynthia Miller, Emma Wright of the Emma Press & Bohdan Piasecki.
I have been counting down since November when I attended the V.I.P Launch and saw the programme the following day. Before the end of the week I had bought my festival pass. Reimbursed with additional travel expenses by Mr G. for Christmas, my mum bought me my workshop tickets for Christmas too and doesn’t it always taste better when it is FREE?
I am kicking myself that I didn’t keep up with the announcements beyond social media, as I discovered late Wednesday night some of the programme had to be changed.
We have made some changes to our programme for Sunday 19th Feb at Verve. Most notably, Melissa Lee-Houghton has had to pull out of the festival for personal reasons. This has left a hole in the programme, as Melissa was due to run a workshop in the afternoon as well as reading at the evening headline event alongside Penned In The Margins stable-mate and Birmingham based Luke Kennard, and excellent Bloodaxe poet Shazea Quraishi.
It is a hole we have been working hard these last few days to plug, and plug it we have. Shazea Quraishi was thrilled to be asked to run a workshop in Melissa’s place from 1-3 PM. While Melissa was going to be getting her workshoppers to focus on the idea of writing to, Shazea will instead focus on writing as.
For the evening headline event, we decided to ask to excellent Ruby Robinson to read for us in Melissa’s place, and we have to say we were thrilled to bits when she agreed. Ruby has had an glorious year on the back of having her first collection, Every Little Sound, published by Pavillion Poetry – being short-listed for the Felix Dennis Prize for best first collection and the T.S. Eliot Prize. Collette Bryce wrote, ‘Every Little Sound is an extraordinary first collection from a very gifted young poet.’ We are so excited to hear Ruby read and feel she has added something to our evening headline event that it didn’t possess before. It will be a wonderful reading.
© 2017 Verve Blog
I am really excited about meeting Ruby, who I discovered through INKSPILL 2016 (our online writing retreat right here on this blog).
This morning I found out Robert Harper/ Bare Fiction is doing Poetry surgeries for FREE over the weekend. All 8 slots are fully booked now of course.
Speaking of surgeries, I was diagnosed with Sciatica years ago and rarely suffer. Yesterday as I arrived at work my back went and I was in agony all day. Driving, getting the train and then sitting for 4 hours has not helped. After a soak, a massage and a hot water bottle I only managed about 3 hours sleep. I am now dosed with pain killers and trying not to sit for too long! It is the only thing that will ruin this weekend for me. I saw from last night’s sneezy front row that nothing is keeping any of us away! I am packing a cushion and a mini hot water bottle for tonight and probably catching the bus so I won’t need to drive.
Last night was as incredible as I knew it would be and it was fabulous to share it with an array of poetry friends. I love festivals for catching up with everyone and spending time amongst the throngs of poets. It was great to see that there was audience present as well as writers amongst the festival goers – a great treat for anyone and EVERYONE!
I arrived about an hour early as I know better than to trust city train services. This gave me a chance to chat to friends and relax before the night unfurled. It was lovely to see Daljit Nagra again and I really appreciated the chat we managed before he was whisked away to the Green Room! The Barista helped, having put our coffees on the same tray it would have been awkward for either one of us to refuse the other’s company. I was delighted, of course. I think Daljit has a genuine interest in other people and their poetry/lives. I took his Masterclass in Swindon last year at the Festival and am delighted that he will be Poet in Residence this year.
The opening night combined two events that happen regularly in Birmingham. The Poetry Parlour is hosted at Waterstones and features a poet and an Open Mic format and Hit the Ode, probably needs no introduction. One of the biggest poetry nights organised by Apples and Snakes and hosted by Bohdan Piasecki. This was a Thursday night guaranteed to ROAR!
The Festival Stage was fully decorated, fairy lights, bunting, the famous green chairs and Roz Goddard was our glamorous host.
© 2017 Emma Wright
Jane Commane interviewed Daljit with quality questions and he talked about several collections. After that he read and we were spellbound. Pin drop audience moments.
Then an interval followed by the open mic section. I had pre-booked a slot for one poem, I think that was a great idea to maximise the usual 8-9 poets to 12. Actually Roz made the decision to invite an extra 3 readings, treated to 15 poets/poems. A great range of voice. I performed ‘Your Gift’ from Fragile Houses.
Then to complete the evening the winner of the Verve Poetry Competition performed an incredible set. I didn’t enter this competition and I am regretting not being organised enough to make the deadline because Saturday and Sunday will be filled by the anthology that was published from the entries, including an opportunity for work to be read. I know many/most/probably all the poets who are bound in this collection and it is on my must buy list. Which is so incredibly long that I have already marked out the books to buy later in the year. Waterstones have a eye-catching display right by the front door of all the books from festival poets.
© 2017 Waterstones
Hit The Ode
As I have mentioned many times on this blog is an amazing night! Full of passion, spoken word and laughter. They always have 3 Headline acts, one local, one national and one international and this evening was no exception.
© 2017 Waterstones
From the Midlands, Soweto Kinch: the man who embodies the Brummie renaissance, a lyricist, playwright, poet, rapper and saxophone virtuoso in one tight package. http://www.soweto-kinch.com/
From outside the Midlands, Jemima Foxtrot: writer, theatre-maker, performer and musician, Jemima’s makes the distinction between song and poetry irrelevant. https://jemimafoxtrot.co.uk/
From beyond these Isles, Dizzylez: rapper, poet, percussionist, loop-pedal master, this French jack-of-all-trades creates layered narratives in front of your very eyes. http://www.dizzylez.com/
© 2017 Verve Programme
I regret not signing up for an open mic slot in advance – I didn’t think it through, I was upstairs in the Parlour and the event finished in time for the next one to begin. I snuck out a little early to sign up but was already too late. I was a little hesitant at performing at both events and this prevented me from sending an email. Silly really. I had surprised myself earlier in the day by realising that I now know some of the lighter poems in my pamphlet off by heart and last week wrote an amusing poem about lists which I could have shared. In another way it is great to attend, watch, enjoy… although I did have to move to the back after the first half to grab a comfy green chair as my back was in spasm by this point.
I thoroughly enjoyed HTO and was sad to leave before the end of Soweto Kinch’s set. I missed my train and couldn’t risk missing the last one as my car was parked in the suburbs and it would have been expensive to reach it. It has happened before, funnily enough at my first HTO I attended in 2014.
It was a great night, I was mesmerised by Dizzylez and his set, mostly in French. It reminded me of my time in Montreal, which is probably the last time I saw performance work in French for any length of time. I used to speak fluently, but not been to France now for over a decade and don’t use the language much (other than teaching) so I am no longer fluent.
Jemima Foxtrot was mesmerising. I really hope to catch her again. It was good to have music at HTO too – all three Headliners are musicians/musical.
It may be the excellent Waterstone’s Americano or adrenaline – or lack of sleep or a combination of all three, I feel like I am on top of the world. Welcome to my life during a poetry festival! WHOOOAAHHHOOOO
Tonight I have the pleasure of Kim Moore, Mona Arshi & Katrina Naomi. Kim and Mona I met at Swindon last year and Katrina has always been performing in clashing events on the festival circuit. I look forward to discovering her.
Followed by the Dice Slam (Apples and Snakes) and the last bus home. Fingers crossed the service runs smoothly. I may have to find some space under a bookcase if not!