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Shazea Quraishi

Writing for me is about discovery, and there has to be some truth for it to be meaningful. ‘Authentic’ is a word we hear a lot – but it’s important with writing, especially poetry.

Shazea Quraishi

Shazea Quraishi is a Pakistan-born Canadian poet and translator based in London. An alumni of The Complete Works I, her first pamphlet,The Courtesans Reply, was published by Flipped Eye in 2012 andThe Art of Scratching, her first book-length collection, was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2015.Her poems have appeared in UK and US publications including The Financial Time, Poetry Review and most recently The Hudson Review & New England Review.

THE TAXIDERMIST

Brand new and long-awaited poetry from this elegant and meticulous poet.

What has the body of a white mouse to show us?
What is art?
And how can we live with death?

The contemplative and poised poems in this collection tackle the vast questions of life and art. Their simplicity is beguiling, their vocabulary – hypnotic, as tiny details build slowly, calmly, to create a vision as broad as existence itself.

The Taxidermist is Shazea Quraishi’s first published collection of poems since her 2015 debut full collection The Art of Scratching (Bloodaxe Books).

SAMPLE POEM

Day 3  

Sunrise
the highest tree in the garden is the first to be lit
Birds come   one orange-red bellied   another bright-
yellow black-headed   black wings tipped with white
and another   a pair
Sky blue as the bucket by the tap
air cool   an ant crosses her foot
  bees in the lavender bush

A bird perches in a leafless tree
dun-coloured   long-tailed quiet
watches her watching
preens under its wings

Here   the other side of the world grass looks different
earth bleached by sun   flowers blaze
air smells   how to describe it   orange

'There’s so much life buzzing through the pages, I was left in no doubt this is a fascination with life, not only its end.'
Charlotte Gann

THE ART OF SCRATCHING

Taking inspiration from sources including historical and medical texts, curator’s notes and the Complete Kama Sutra, Shazea’s first collection explores love and loss through a range of voices: an Iraqi mother holds her fragile son; under the guise of ardour, a courtesan searches a client for signs of the woman she loves; a wife is unsettled by her husband’s new family…

The Art of Scratching includes The Courtesans Reply, a sequence written in response to the Caturbhani, four plays written around 300 BC on the life of courtesans in India.

Shazea Quraishi’s first collection reveals the poet’s flair for re-imagining and feminising historical texts, and for inventing her own edgy fables of family life and childhood.’
Carol Rumens
The Guardian
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In Conversation with Shazea Quraishi

With her pamphlet’s six-month anniversary coming up as well as a guest spot reading at our upcoming launch event, we thought it was about time that we sat down to catch up with Verve Poet Shazea Quraishi. Read below to find out about what she’s been up to, what she’s reading and why climbing out of windows has become part of her daily writing process…

Hello! How are you doing? What have you been up to since we last heard from you?

I’ve been working on my next collection.  And I’ve been translating poems by Susana Chavez, a Mexican poet and journalist who was murdered in 2011.  I spent February in Mexico last year, on an artist residency to work on that.  I’ve also continued to teach with the Poetry School & work as an artist in residence with Living Words.  I’ve been lucky enough to have work to sustain me during this difficult plague year which goes on and on. Without work projects and deadlines, I don’t think I’d have got much done.

Wow! So it’s safe to say you’ve been busy. Have you had time to reflect on your pamphlet in the six months since its publication with us?

When Stuart asked if I might be interested in doing a pamphlet with Verve, it came at the perfect time.  I had been working on my next collection but felt adrift, and The Taxidermist gave me a way to focus on one strand of the story.  It also gave me a form – I used the number of available pages, and spaces on a page, as a constraint to work within.  I used white space to score the poems (3 spaces here, 5 or 10 spaces there) for pace and meaning.  It could have driven another editor mad, but Stuart was 100% with me.

We published Shazea's pamphlet The Taxidermist in October 2020

It’s amazing what a good book can do for you – whether you’re writing it or reading it! What are you reading right now? What inspires the writing you do?

I always have several books on the go (don’t judge me).

Never.

Right now I’m reading Valeria Luiselli’s Sidewalks to remind me of my time in Mexico early last year, Known and Strange Things by Teju Cole, Do No Harm by Henry Marsh (I have a deep love of medical memoirs), and a Jack Reacher novel as my comfort read. Poetry-wise I’m reading the latest Paris Review, The Book of Endings by Leslie Harrison, Bright Dead Things by Ada Limón, and I continue to dip in and out of Jorie Graham’s Selected Poems. I’m also haunted, in the best way, by Ilya Kaminsky’s Deaf Republic which I recently re-read – because of the way it blends story, drama and poetry, and because it is so humane, elegant and skilfully crafted.  I admire and love it.

That’s a gorgeously eclectic library – there’s a few to add to our list there. Speaking of drama and poetry, we know you write both—what would you say distinguishes the two for you?

*silent scream* I’ve been working on my play, The Jasmine Terrace, an adaptation of my flipped eye pamphlet The Courtesans Reply for several years now.  I had a rehearsed reading Upstairs at Soho Theatre in 2014, and had a finished version soon after that, but it’s not right. 

 

With poems, I believe you can’t force or fabricate an ending – it’s more something that you need to find your way to. Otherwise it feels contrived and doesn’t ring true.  I’m still trying to find the ending the play wants – rather than what I want.  I think the play has a question, and it’s not the question I thought it was, so I’m trying to figure that out.

It’s always a good sign when the writing process surprises you, even if it does mean more work. What’s your usual writing M.O?

At some point I realise I’ve been interested/obsessed with something for ages – years perhaps. This is how most of my books begin, as a thread running through the poems. I read widely around the subject, and things are bubbling away in the back of my mind whilst I’m getting on with life. So life and interest/obsession weave together. Research is one of my favourite bits – at some point I have to stop myself. Then it’s a case of getting in the chair and writing around it, through it etc.  Deadlines are the best motivators.

Shazea visited Pakistan to research and develop her play The Jasmine Terrace

It’s sometimes difficult to get that balance between organic inspiration and the necessity of structure to be productive.

Writing for me is about discovery, and there has to be some truth for it to be meaningful. ‘Authentic’ is a word we hear a lot – but it’s important with writing, especially poetry.  I like to get to my desk early in the morning when my brain is fresh, and before family life intervenes.  I write in a small shed which takes up a third of the garden and where I don’t get wi-fi.  Unfortunately our back door is broken at the moment and won’t open, so I have to climb in and out of a window to get to the garden. Luckily it’s not a high window.

Well you know what they say. If one door closes…

One last question: what’s next for you?

My new collection from Bloodaxe is due for publication next year.  The title came to me underwater, swimming at Brockwell lido, which is near my house.  Swimming is my happy place, especially in cold water.

Ooh, sounds exciting! We can’t wait to take a deep dive into that when it comes out. All the best for it and thank you for taking the time to talk with us!

For more from Shazea, check out her pamphlet The Taxidermist or her socials, and remember to join us as she reads alongside Sean Wai Keung, Rushika Wick and Elaine Beckett at the launch event for their collections!

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In Conversation with Sharena Lee Satti

Continuing our series of blog posts getting to know Verve Poets a little better, we put some questions to the wonderful Sharena Lee Satti, whose collection She we published in November 2020. Read below to find out what the collection meant to her as well as all the latest on her community projects in Bradford and beyond…
Hello! How are you doing today? What have you been up to since we last heard from you?

I’m doing okay, a little bit tired. It’s been a busy weekend celebrating International Women’s Day at lots of events. I’ve been working on quite a few commissioned pieces, one being for ODI Leeds — a poem about Data and the importance of accurate data being delivered to people that have very little knowledge about it. I’ve tried to simplify it with poetry.

I’ve been working on a few other commissioned pieces and I’ve presented my own radio show—which is going to be the start of something new and exciting with my new upcoming project that I am one of three founders of called Spoke.

Spoke is a non-profit organisation looking to raise the profile of spoken word and provide opportunities for people of all ages and walks of life to experience spoken word poetry.
 
Founded by Sharena in collaboration with Simon Pickles and Laura Baldwin, Spoke delivers workshops in a multitude of settings as well as running an open mic night on 6th March 2021and have lots more planned for the future…

Tell us about your collection She and what it means to you.

SHE is a very piece of me, of my past and my present, of my struggles and my survival. Its been my lifelong dream, goal, something I was so passionate about seeing, holding, reading, feeling. SHE is my proof that anything is possible if you believe it is. 

That’s beautiful 🥺 Did you have a particular writing process for creating She?

I’m a very free-spirited person, and with my writing also. I don’t really have a set writing process; I write what I feel, what I am inspired to write or what my emotions need to release. She is a mixture of my own experiences. I write with purpose.

The poems in She cover an already long career as an inspiring live poet, host and workshopper – it is obvious straight away that Sharena has produced a formidable body of work. Her collection features new work plus some selected poems from her earlier books.

Her poems are real, raw and honest, addressing issues such as survival, cultural-identity, life’s battles, self-love, body dysmorphia and many other subjects that people struggle to speak about.

Speaking of purpose… we know you’re really invested in fostering community around poetry—could you tell us a little bit about the work you do and why it’s important?

Everything I do is linked to poetry: poetry in schools, facilitating poetry workshops or events, sharing poetry, collaborations of poetry and other art forms.

Poetry once saved my life. It’s that feeling of owning your own words, your own truth, being able to freely express it and to be heard. I have seen the power of poetry and what it can do for one’s mental health and confidence. I’ve seen poetry change people’s lives and seen kids, so quiet, not willing to read one word, stand in front of their whole class sharing a poem they have created.

I heard my friend Abda Khan say: “There is power in words and you don’t know whose life you’re changing by sharing yours.” I’m a firm believer that poetry can change lives and it’s for this reason I’m so passionate about sharing and encouraging people to get involved in this artform.

We heartily agree. So what’s next for you? How are you planning on changing people’s lives next?

I’m not really trying to plan too far ahead, as we never know what’s around the corner (especially now). I’m kinda taking the go-with-the-flow approach, although I do have a few things I’m working on.

One project is Heroes are Teachers; I’m currently working with schools in Bradford, supported by Bradford council, encouraging all schools to get their pupils involved in writing a poem about their teachers. A little thank you to all the incredible teachers that have been so amazing throughout lockdown. They deserve so much.

Also Spoke, as mentioned above. Watch this space; it’s all very exciting!

Indeed it is! A huge thank you to Sharena for talking to us about all of it. For more from her you can check out her author page and for more about She you can visit our bookshop. Follow Sharena on socials below to stay up to date on all of her projects and, while you’re there, you might as well give us a follow too to find out all the latest from us and our poets 😉

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Natalie Whittaker

‘The thing that motivates me to write is a line or a sound or an image that I can’t get out of my head… The need to transform emotion (usually negative emotion) into something approaching comprehension.’

Natalie Whittaker is a poet and secondary school teacher from South East London. Her debut pamphlet Shadow Dogs was published by ignition press in 2018. Natalie is one of the London Library’s emerging writers for 2020 / 2021. Her poems have been widely published in UK magazines and anthologies; she was commended in the Verve poetry competition 2020, and won second place in the Kent and Sussex poetry competition 2020.

TREE

In Tree, Natalie Whittaker is writing about her personal experience of stillbirth and the mental illness that can follow such a traumatic event. It is a subject that is still rarely addressed in poetry, writing or conversation. That she is able to do so here, in eighteen intricate, carefully crafted poems, in a way that is engaging, communicative, distressing and yet also beautiful, is a testament to her abilities as a poet, her strong grasp on the power of language and the power of her imagination.

With these powers, she brings a harrowing subject close up and enables the reader to truly feel, to see, to understand, to share. It is a brave and necessary work, wonderfully and heart-breakingly realised.

SAMPLE POEM

the first week

Interflora deliver
three identical bereavement bouquets
white and green
within a week  the lilies die
their leaves spawn small black flies

in the kitchen  I put away the pans
and a blood clot pushes out of me
like a ragged rotten plum
into maternity tracksuit bottoms

the same night  my milk comes in
breasts are sauna stones  tears are steam
I slide cabbage leaves
into a maternity bra
go to bed  sweat into cabbage leaves
white and green
on the wall  there are small black flies

'‘Tree grows from a place of great pain – the experience of losing a child to stillbirth – but Natalie Whittaker’s brave, unflinching and ultimately redemptive poems find a way to make sense of such a devastating event. Through the poet’s desire to speak directly to her daughter, the poems stand as a memorial to a life that never was; in their preoccupation with time, with the passing of seasons, with the re-entry into the ordinary world after a great personal tragedy, they are ultimately a memorial to the preciousness and precariousness of life. This is a devasting book, but one that needed to be written – it is also one that needs to be read.’
Tamar Yoseloff

SHADOW DOGS

Natalie’s first pamphlet, Shadow Dogs, was published in 2018 by Ignition Press. They describe it as a collection of concise, haunting poems of suburban tales half-told, whose visceral and disturbing images are conveyed with unexpected intrigue. This is an absorbing debut delivered with acute, tender emotion from a writer who genuinely cares for their craft. These twenty-one poems herald a poet coming of age.

The twenty-one poems collected here are often short and restrained but, to steal from the pamphlet’s title, the elegant sentences and striking images cast enormous shadows, conjuring something much bigger than themselves. Because of the care with language and the sense of a lived life in these poems, they have long after-lives, resonating after they have been read.
Jonathan Edwards
Poetry School
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Marina Sánchez

‘The urgency of these poems would not let me sleep until I wrote and gathered them and they found a home in this pamphlet.’

Marina Sánchez is  a Latinx mix of Indigenous Mexican/Spanish/ British living in London. She is an award-winning poet and translator, widely published in literary journals. Her poems have been placed in many national and international competitions and then anthologised. Her debut pamphlet Dragon Child (Acumen, 2014), was Book of the Month on The Poetry Kit website and was featured in the British Library’s The Hidden Surprises of Poetry Pamphlets Event (2019). Some of her poems are included in Un Nuevo Sol (Flipped Eye, 2019), the first UK Latinx anthology.

MEXICA MIX

In her new pamphlet, Mexica Mix, Marina Sánchez, one of the most distinctive poets from the UKs Latinx community, explores her experiences of living in Mexico, Spain and the UK.

Through the arc of Family, Icons and Earth, she writes a profound, rich and well-crafted sequence of poems grappling with displacement, bilingual identity and mixed heritage, challenging cultural icons and affirming her relationship with the planet, rooted in her Indigenous Mexican ancestry. By turns lyrical, urgent, sensual and subversive, her powerful use of vivid imagery and language both voice the personal and engage the collective.

Place your hand on this book and you will feel the heartbeat of the poems inside.

Marina Sánchez’s poetry is charged with fervour and passion, and deep connection with her Indigenous Mexican and Spanish roots – Nahuatl (Aztec) and Spanish tongues entwine to tell their stories, reclaim lost knowledge and celebrate their existence.

SAMPLE POEM

Clouds of Doubt

Mother’s mouth was a story-telling flower,
painted in her favourite bougainvillea
lipstick, conjuring clouds of doubt
about where she was born.

Sometimes she’d say it was Cuernavaca,
‘the city of eternal spring’,
on the slopes of her beloved volcanoes
and the Chichinatzin mountains,

where dad would stop to buy her orchids.
Other times, she’d say we came from Mixtecs.
But she looked down on ‘indios’ and ‘prietos’,
only pointing out her skin colour

to boast how she turned chocolate in the sun.
While she resented my questions,
what else could I do? As a child,
I felt the weight she carried,

how she seemed trapped in her game
of concealing and revealing,
then sighs, quick laughter, silence.
My ancestors lie like budbursts in these tales.

_________________

Indios: native Indians from one of the many indigenous tribes in Mexico – Prietos: slang for someone who has dark skin
'"What if language was a body of water..." the poet asks. In these urgent and powerful poems Sánchez’s ancestral voices are in full flow, singing praise to life, the maternal, and the elemental.'
Cheryl Moskowitz

DRAGON CHILD

'Amazing poems on such an enormous and difficult subject. Perfectly put together. Beautiful. A real achievement.'
Mimi Khalvati

Published by Acumen in 2014, Marina’s first pamphlet was a series of poems both personal and universal. Personal as they stemmed from her experience of learning her daughter had CHARGE syndrome and universal as they touched on the hopes and fears of all mothers for their children.

The pamphlet was Book of the Month on The Poetry Kit website and was also featured in the British Library’s The Hidden surprises of Poetry Pamphlets Event with Gemma Meek (3 June 2019).

'A fine, direct and poignant exploration through a landscape that has no other map'
Jim Bennett
Poetry Kit

More from Marina

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Elaine Beckett

“The great French cinematographer, Robert Bresson, wrote: ‘What I reject as too simple is the thing that is important and that one must dig into’. I find that a very helpful idea; that a poem can start from anywhere. It is the journey it goes on that’s important.”

Elaine Beckett was born in London. She trained as a musician and worked for many years with children with special educational needs, also as a theatre and TV composer.

Elaine holds a degree in Architecture from UCL and a PhD from the University of York. Her debut pamphlet Faber New Poets 13 was published in 2016. As part of that scheme, she was mentored by Professor Sinéad Morrissey.

Her work has appeared in The Poetry Review, Ambit, The North, The New European and numerous anthologies. In 2019 her poetry was shortlisted for the Bridport Poetry Prize, and in 2020 longlisted for the National Poetry Competition.

SEA CREATURE REGROWS ENTIRE BODY

The title of Elaine Beckett’s debut collection suggests a process of unstoppable change. Moments of personal and global crisis are juxtaposed, examined from different perspectives, so that her poems show humanity in a constant state of flux. This is ambitious work, acute in its commitment to the truth of lived experience. Beckett’s watch-maker’s eye for detail, impeccable ear, and intricate use of poetic form, reveal truths with a compassion that moves her work way beyond the confessional.

Arranged in seven short sequences, that spiral round themes of loss, betrayal, delight and re-birth, this is a beautifully wrought collection; at times hard hitting and painful, yet witty and moving, and always surprising.

SAMPLE POEM

Calais, or Part of me is at the Opera

A boy dares to leap,
higher than expected with no hand-holds,

the roar of a truck drowning the crack
of the crush of his leg against steel

while I sit watching Carmen.
She has a lot to do:

breathing in, and breathing deep
to last this phrase

and the next, and the one after that,
pitching on towards the final act.

It is breath that we all have in common.
The boy has a life to live,

given all of it again
he still would not have chosen death.

'Occasionally a poet comes along pretty much fully formed. That is what I felt when I first read Elaine Beckett’s poems. Not only her voice -brazen, tender and undeceived - but how it’s held in structures of great poise and resonance.Revelatory poems to be read, and read again.’ 
Greta Stoddart

FABER NEW POETS 13

'Laconic, undeceived, brilliantly evoked.'
Sean O'Brien
The Guardian

Funded by Arts Council England, Faber New Poets aims to identify and support emerging talents at an early stage in their careers. Through a programme of mentorship, bursary and pamphlet publication, the scheme offers four poets a year the time, guidance and encouragement they require to help in the development of their work in the longer term.

In 2016, Elaine’s work was chosen to be published in this neat pamphlet to a (well-deserved) great reception.

'A captivating fusion of poems, by turns witty, satirical, and melancholic.'
Chloe Stopa-Hunt
The Poetry Review

More from Elaine

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Rushika Wick

“My head is mostly full of nonsense viewed from a constellation of all the high-rises (#solidarity) in poverty London. There are moments of focus on objects in the bin & objects in the sky. Everyone is invited.”

Rushika Wick is a poet, doctor and Children’s Rights advocate who is interested in how social structures and relationships impact the body. She has performed with the Cold Lips Magazine collective in London, Rough Night Press (Amsterdam) and Skylark (Norwich) communities. Her work has been published  in literary magazines including Ambit, Datableed and Tentacular and within anthologies including Fool-saint (Tangerine Press), Alter Egos (Bad Betty Press) and Smear (Andrews McMeel).

AFTERLIFE AS TRASH

Rushika Wick’s poems are works of great imaginative power, both formally and in terms of their contents. In the exuberant opening poem of this collection, ‘Diaries Of An Artist In Hiding’, she is by turns the president, Matisse, a love letter, the weather, a badger; ‘the experiment is boundless / like the imagination of a new subspecies /of giant squid / immeasurable and brilliant, / Its owner perceived as a delicacy.’ It is a poem that seems to stand as a sort of manifesto for the whole book, which feels like poetry that contains such energy it has started to wriggle free from the usual constraints of subject and form.  

But unlike so much experimental poetry, the reader is brought along for the ride and encouraged to feel the wind in their hair. Characters appear – Camille Claudel, Michael Knight, Lady Chatterley – only to vanish again in a single line once their work is done. Poetic forms are introduced only to be blown apart, words scattering across the page like paint-spatter, letters vanishing to reveal deeper truths. These poems are so full of life even as they acknowledge the stark realities that are a risk to life – also the very real presence of death. And everything is here. And trash is everywhere. And the wind is blowing it and us. It is exhilarating!

SAMPLE POEM

Diaries Of An Artist In Hiding
 
I am the president
I tell myself out loud in the car on the way to work as a social experiment,
I am the president
I am the president by the end of the journey I am taller, fatter,
dreaming of an André Breton republic and Cuban cigars.
 
The broader view is my poetry of hagiography,
I am becoming beatific,
rise above most things –
a swallow filled with helium
soon to feel altitude sickness.
Really the experiment is myself,
there are no controls that I am aware of
it’s a pretty state of affairs
can do what I want when I want and so on.
 
I am Matisse with a charcoal
drawing on the walls from my sick bed today.
The flu is viral and I am kept inside
a glass cloche of yellow and pink spring blooms.
More work is needed I tell myself,
only the lines, the forms, the space can reveal the truth absolute
straight from a Russian Vodka God or my dancing hands,
no deviation from the discipline of the line.
Charcoal dust falls to the concrete floor.
 
I am romantic on Tuesday
a love letter from Camille to Rodin
filled with the language of marble,
flowering fingers, fractures,
scatters of light picking out human form.
Rasps and rifflers fall from cramped hands
warming each other beneath dust sheets.
 
Most days I have concealed myself so well
that I am free to lie in a dark space,
expecting nothing but the occasional
levitation of a knife or
corkscrewing of a bird feeder.
I am becoming the weather.
I hear of snow on the radio,
next day it falls on cherry blossom,
petals and ice confuse.
Oh the joys of such freedom!
 
This morning I am a badger
I have an earthen dwelling and have bitten you for coming too close
unheeding of the clear warnings.
Soon I will piss en plein air and
find some unwanted dog food and
be happy.
 
The experiment is boundless
like the imagination of a new subspecies
of giant squid,
immeasurable and brilliant,
it’s owner perceived as a delicacy.
‘Afterlife As Trash introduces us to a thrilling new voice, clear-eyed and tender in its witnessing of our mercurial existence and that of our planet.I delighted in the assured, playful pyrotechnics of language and the wry humour that accompanied poems of deep-thinking and serious intent. “As I am both living and dying every day I wish only for / the extraordinary” a speaker maintains, encouraging us to do the same.’
Shazea Quraishi

POETRY REVIEW: WINTER 2020

One of Rushika’s recent published works features in the last Poetry Review of 2020. Her poem Hair is available to read for free on the Poetry Society website.

Rushika was also one of four poets (Graham Mort, Meredi Ortega and Jason Allen-Paisant) to perform alongside Review editor Emily Berry at the launch event in January 2021. 

ANTHOLOGIES

Alter-Egos (Bad Betty Press, 2019)
Fool-Saint (Tangerine Press, 2020)
Smear (Andrews McMeel, 2020)
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Verve Poetry Press Submissions Window: An Interview with Stuart Bartholomew

Ahead of our upcoming submissions window in March 2021, we hunted down that elusive creature, Verve founder and editor Stuart Bartholomew to ask him (almost) everything you’d ever want to know about submissions to the Press. What is he looking for in a manuscript? Can you submit more than once? What about languages other than English? All is revealed below…

First, the basics: when, where and how can people submit their work to the press?

Our submissions are going to be open for the whole of March 2021: That’s midnight on Monday 1st until midnight on Wednesday 31st. This time we’re looking for full collections only, which we’re defining as 60+ pages (and up to double that) with the guide of 28 lines of poetry fitting onto a page. We want complete manuscripts although we will consider high quality drafts that are almost there.

You can submit by emailing us at mail@vervepoetrypress.com, with the manuscript as an attached file titled with both your name and the provision title, so: AuthorName_TitleOfManuscript.

In addition to the manuscript itself, we’ll want a one-page (and only one-page, mind you) document detailing your poetic journey so far – we want to know your favourite poetry books, your favourite performers, your favourite events attended (remote or otherwise) alongside a full list of workshops attended, publishing history and readings you’ve given, although it matters less if you don’t have answers for those last three.

We know a thing or two about inspring events...

Here is a good point as any to make clear that we know there are all sorts of factors that can limit access to physical poetry books, performances and workshops and this should in no way be a barrier to applying; tell us instead about online readings and events you’ve attended and enjoyed, and about which of the mountains of free online poems you’ve read, loved and been influenced by!

Finally we want to know the details of the ambitions you have for the book you hope to make, and what things you intend to do personally (outside of submitting it to us) to help it reach a wide audience. We’re an ambitious but still small press and every book’s success is a result of collaboration between us and the author.

And when and how can people expect a response?

The plan is to get back to everyone within eight weeks of the window closing. That gives us enough time to consider everything and make some inevitably difficult decisions. We’re not able to give individual feedback to everybody that submits, for the simple reason of time constraints.

Brilliant. So, logistics aside, what are you looking for in these manuscripts? What are the kinds of poetry that are most likely to make it onto the Verve publishing schedule?

'Submissions must be excellent, generous, open-minded, ambitious and informed.'

If you know us at all, you will know the answer to this. Like our sister festival, we have a love and respect for poetry in all its forms and from all sources. We love poetry designed for the page that is read-out-able and poetry designed to perform that is readable in book form. We love poetry shows, long narrative poems, short quirky poems, one poem manuscripts, seventy poem manuscripts, dramatic poems, quiet poems, free-form poems, fully formed poems, heavily edited poems, poems written in one go. But they must be excellent, generous, open-minded, ambitious and informed.

I don’t want anyone to feel like we’re not interested in ‘their kind of poetry’ but I do want poetry that has an understanding of itself and the context it lives in.

Recent additions to our pantheon! Could you join them?

QUICK FIRE QUESTIONS

When will successful manuscripts  be published?

Collections we choose from this submissions window will be published either in the second half of 2022 or 2023.

Can people submit if they’ve already submitted to Verve in the past?

Yes! Not only that, but they can submit more than one manuscript at a time, if they have that much poetry knocking around.

What about if they’re also submitting elsewhere?

Fine by me – they’ll just have to keep me informed of any updates in that regard.

What if the work is previously published?

If poems have been published in magazines or anthologies before that’s not a problem, as long as the collection as a whole hasn’t ever been published as a complete work.

How do you feel about non-English language poetry?

We’re really interested in manuscripts that involve more than one language – I’d say it’d have to be at least 50% English: bi- and multi-lingual poetry is absolutely a yes.

Do you have to be from the Midlands to submit?

Not at all. Like our sister festival, our roots will always be in Birmingham but we are proud and excited to have our doors open to poets far and wide – we’ve published poets from all over the world!

Is there a submission fee?

No. We want to remove as many barriers as possible from the submitting process, so we haven’t charged people for submitting their work.

Do people have to buy a book from you to submit?

No, there’s no requirement and no enforcer going door to door checking your bookshelves. Although it does make sense that you should know who we are and the work we publish – and in my humble, unbiased opinion, we do have great books that you would probably enjoy if you did buy them.

Any last words for people thinking about submitting?

Just that we’d love to see your stuff. It was amazing to read through our last window’s material and I’m really looking forward to seeing what we get. If you’re serious about poetry, this is absolutely for you – show us what you’ve got!

So there you have it! (Almost) everything you need to know about submitting to Verve Poetry Press in one place. If you or anyone you know is interested, be sure to follow us on socials for all the updates and get those manuscripts ready!

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Sean Wai Keung

“I think the concept of taking something familiar and making it seem a little less familiar is one of the things that attracts me to art. By playing with form, I hope to make something a little different, which reflects my experience of hybridity in daily life.”

Sean Wai Keung is a Glasgow-based poet and performer. His pamphlet you are mistaken won the Rialto Open Pamphlet Competition 2016 and he has also released how to cook and be happy, both with Speculative Books. He has developed solo performances with the National Theatre of Scotland, where he was a Starter Artist in 2017, Anatomy Arts, Magnetic North and the Fringe of Colour, and is also a poetry editor at EX/POST magazine. He holds degrees from Roehampton University, London, and the University of East Anglia, Norwich and has been published in 404Ink, Blood Bath, datableedzine and The Suburban Review, amongst others.

SIKFAN GLASCHU

sikfan glaschu is an exploration of identity and authenticity, told through the lens of the city of Glasgow and its restaurants, cafes, languages, histories and lockdowns. By using the city as a starting point, Sean Wai Keung examines his own relationship to food, migration and family, as well as the very notion of ‘belonging’ somewhere in the first place.

Written with honesty and humour, sikfan glaschu is Wai Keung’s exciting debut full-length collection. 

SAMPLE POEM

chinatown

this place was built by migrants
therefore it is ours

they came from the gàidhealtachd
they came from the ghalltachd

sometimes i wonder what my 公公 would have thought
had he been given the chance to visit

he had lived in other cities built by migrants
hongkong – liverpool – bradford –

i like to think that if he had been given the chance
he would have liked it
but who can know for sure

when he first arrived in the uk i dont know
what glaschu would have been like

chinatown here opened in 1992
the year after i was born

i moved here three
years after he died

this place was built by migrants
and we have been eating here ever since

'Through his inventive use of form and language, Sean Wai Keung’s latest collection explores the new possibilities to understand and chronicle a British-born Chinese person’s multiple sense of belonging and cultural identity, and the unforgettable experience of the local during the lockdown.

Written with honesty and humour, this collection—filled with surprising food memories and adventures—makes one question the meaning of culture, legitimacy and authenticity.
Jennifer Wong

ESEA Joy / Resistance Database Project

In preparation for a performance he’s developing – FORTUNE – Sean’s putting together a database of thoughts actions and activities that express an element of Joy and/or Resitance from East- & South-East-Asian people and communities.

Whether it’s an event you felt free to express yourself or the sharing of a particular meal that brought you joy, Sean’s looking to collect these moments and share them in a public database as well as using some of them in his show.

SEAN'S PAMPHLETS

how to cook (Speculative Books, 2018)
You Are Mistaken (Rialto, 2016)
be happy (Speculative Books, 2020)
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Hannah Hodgson

“This pamphlet explores more about the seriousness of my illness, but also the unexpected light.”

Hannah wears her heart on her... T-shirt

Hannah Hodgson is a poet living with life-limiting illness. Her work has been published by the Poetry Society, Teen Vogue and Poetry Saltzburg, amongst others. She is the recipient of a 2020 Northern Writers Award for Poetry. Her first poetry pamphlet Dear Body was published by Wayleave Press in 2018.

WHERE I'D WATCH PLASTIC TREES NOT GROW

Hannah has taken her regular hospitalization due to serious illness and made it into astonishing poetry. Her world of the hospital is sometimes like a zoo, sometimes like a gallery and sometimes a crowded town square. The wards contain tigers and crows, butterflies – doctors become poets, the dead turn into an art installation, while outside, the trees are plastic – as unchanging as Hannah’s shielding days that ‘drag like a foot.’

But between the pulled curtains of these words the details of real-life amongst the terminally ill are depicted in full colour. A daughter ‘cries neatly in a corner’ while her mourning father spins ‘his wedding band around his finger.’ Nurses fill ‘carrier bags marked ‘patient’s property’,’ while ‘the industrial plastic’ crinkles as a body is lifted from bed to trolley in its bag.

The poet’s eye feels unblinking at times – unable but also unwilling to blink. How could it when it has so much to show? These poems are heavy with import, but they are light with the liveliness of art that is beautifully rendered.

SAMPLE POEM

Little Deaths

After the death of my stomach,
the church was full of mourners –

but at the 15th funeral of myself
it’s just me and a few doctors.

We lay wreathes by each ear
and seal each urn with a hearing aid mould.

I’m a widower grieving herself.
My stem still living,

while all the petals have died;
my body has begun to droop.

‘These are extraordinary poems that contain both humour and grief towards a world that continually dehumanizes disabled people in multiple ways. With startling images, Hannah Hodgson balances anger and love, despair and hope – this is a pamphlet that will leave any reader irrevocably changed.' 
Kim Moore

BREAKTHROUGH: OUR TIME

Commissioned by The Lakes International Comic Art Festival, this is an anthology of some of the newest and most exciting talents emerging in British Comics. Hannah worked closely with artist Michael Lightfoot to create a piece exploring disability in Britain today, published alongside other work exploring climate change activism, mental health issues in a multicultural society and romance in a post-Brexit world.

A few sample panels from Hannah's comic

DEAR BODY (2018)

Hannah’s first pamphlet, Dear Body was published by Wayleave Press in 2018. An account fo her experiences suffering from an array of conditions that dramatically affect her life, this pamphlet raises questions about the relationship between person identity, the physical body and our place in the world.

'a short but genuinely powerful and carefully made work of literature. It shifted my understanding of disability and chronic illness.'
Jonathan Davidson
Under the Radar
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