Next Thursday the single most ambitious and important thing I’ve ever done kicks off. Verve Poetry Festival’s mission is to showcase the diversity, heart and dizzying talent of UK poets and change how you feel about poetry. It runs Feb 14-17 in Birmingham.
We have a ludicrous line up of 50+ poets who, I kid you not, are life=changing to hear and read. Poets like Vahni Capildeo, Roger Robinson, Bernadine Evaristo, Liz Berry, Polarbear, Inua Ellams, Momtaza Mehri, Andrew McMillan, Amy Key, Anthony Anaxagorou, Alison Brackenbury and many, many more!
Also, if you haven’t heard of those names, that’s *totally cool*. Actually, that’s IDEAL. I love that hundreds of poetry nerds enjoy Verve but what i love most is when people who aren’t writers attend / are dragged along and end up being astonished, moved, delighted.
Here’s what I mean: this is one of my favourite Verve photos. It’s form 2017, our first festival. My friend showed up for moral support and was so blown away by Emily Harrison in the Burning Eye Books Showcase event. That joy is what poetry should do for everyone, not just poetry lovers.
Some poetry you’ll love. Some you won’t (which is fine too!). The whole point of Verve is that you get to experience different kinds of art without all of the pretention, eye-watering prices, London-centricity or homogenous line-ups that usually happens in the literature world.
This year we’re experimenting with a bunch of new things. We’re launching an Annual Performance Lecture with poetry icon Anthony Anaxagorou, blending spoken word and academic discourse for an incisive, urgent, discussion of race and class in how page vs stage poetry is perceived.
We’re book-ending the fest with two music/poetry jams – Inua Ellams RAP Party on Thursday and The Funkenteleky Verve Special for Sunday’s finale, because everyone needs hip-hop and improv jazz in their life. We’re hosting our first ever Poet of the Festival, Sumita Chakraborty, all the way from the US!
We were blown away by UniSlam last year and so collaborated on a special Verve Prize at UniSlam 2019 for an individual performance, which was won by Prerana Kumar. We also commissioned Second City Poets (who won UniSlam 2018) for a new piece called Playground. See them above bout to drop the hottest album ever.
The point is Verve is about innovating new formats while amplifying important voices and work that is already here. We’re the extended family of indie publishers, editors, poetry nights, producers and even organisers.
There are some people and organisations to big up who have embraced the festival and our agenda and supported with their time and energy. Swift Foundation, Aki Schilz, Poetry School, Yoniverse, RAP Party, UniSlam, Apples and Snakes Midlands, Bohdan Piasecki, Funkenteleky, Nine Arches Press, The Emma Press, Burning Eye Books, Outspoken Press, Penned in the Margins, Nymphs and Thugs, Poetry Translation Centre. There are many more. They are the real MVPs of poetry. They support us and deserve in turn to be supported by you.
Anyway, in case you are in any doubt, the best way that you can support our work if you value what we do and why we do it is to attend our festival. After all, festivals are only ever as good as the audiences they attract. We promise you the poetry time of your life! I hope you can be there.