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Leah Atherton

Leah Atherton is a linguist, poet and runner based in Birmingham, UK. She had poems about her adventures featured by iRunFar and Porridge magazines and Brum Radio Poets. Elsewhere, her work has appeared in Birmingham Art Gallery and on BBC Radio WM, and was included as  part of the Beatfreeks Collective anniversary anthology, Wild Dreams and Louder Voices (2018, Verve Poetry Press)

She believes in strong coffee, campfire whisky and the power of muddy shoes.

A sky the colour of hope is the debut full collections from this incredible cross-country poet who writes as she runs – wonderfully.

Part memory box, part prayer, a sky the colour of hope charts the journey of a young woman navigating loss in its many faces, as she learns to choose her own road. Heavily inspired by her 2018 solo fastpack of the South West Coast Path in memory of her father, this collection is by turns light and aching, bitter and joyful as she moves through landscapes forever changed by the people she met along the way. A truly wonderful collection.

You can read Leah’s poem there is only one constant which was featured in the wonderful Porridge Magazine, HERE 

SAMPLE  POEM:

 

SUNDAY

Let’s dance, you and me.

Leave the straight lines and the rules in the parking lot

and dare the wind to play catch up.

 

We’ll barrel our way down root-choked paths

and take corners too tight for our talent;

slog up climbs like we’re chasing redemption on every hilltop

 

And swear we find hope along every single-track we follow

where unanswered prayers make voltage pylons of our bones

and our legs start to buzz with the pent up wire and static.

 

Let’s fly into the wind until the rain makes our faces numb

and we will laugh and let the ice melt baptise the wrong out of our pasts

write our penance in mud track and shale

 

We’ll scrape ourselves raw and scoop ourselves out;

turn valleys into confessionals, thermos tea into communion wine

and make jack-o-lanterns of our haunted hearts to light our return.

 

You and I know that a house of healing

doesn’t need four walls or a roof when you have your feet in the cloud,

this thorn-scrape-peat-stain-hunt-grin cathedral of shadows and light

 

Come on let’s stand, you and me, on the shoulders of giants,

leave behind pieces of questions beat out on hillsides

so far apart only God can read them without skipping a line

 

Recited out by stubborn feet and tempest wills

we’ll follow the music over moor and fell, read answers in contours;

code-lines so far apart maybe God was the one who left them there

 

Let’s dance to the rhythm and drum and the reckless reels

of a landscape that sings to us in a language unwritten

until maybe, at last, we can follow the wild song back.

 

Let’s run.

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Jemima Hughes

Jemima Hughes is a multi-slam winning performance poet who hurried on to the Birmingham poetry scene in March 2018, and swiftly hurried off again after showcasing five minutes of her ongoing mental health battle.

Previously an international trampo-linist and coach, Jemima strove to always support her participants emotionally as much as competitively. As reality hit that she was in need of support herself, she stepped away from her sport and lifelong passion to focus on her mental health. During her most conflicted days, she turned to writing poetry to express herself at a time when her verbal commun-ication was minimal, consequently finding a new passion. These days, Jemima has found her voice again, 

mastered timing and rhythm, and has travelled across the UK and Ireland to headline multiple spoken word events. She now hopes that reading this book will help others in some of the ways that writing it has helped her.

Due out in July 2020, Unorthodox  is Jemima’s lond awatied debut collection. As a perfomer she has been compared to a tornado –  her words lifting you, spinning you around, her rhymes connecting with each other across space and heightened emotion. The lively poems in this work move you in similar ways, as Jemima leads you into a whirlwind of love and heartache, where struggle and abuse and paralyzing mental health issues are foreces to be reckoned with, subside momentarily, only to rise again. We are thrilled to have been able to pin these words down long enough to be consumed. 

Unorthodox truly is a remarkable and powerful book of poems.

ABOUT JEMIMA:

“Jemima is a tour de force when it comes to spoken word poetry. She pulls no punches and is brutal yet beautiful in equal measure. Now she’s brought her work to the page. Treat yourselves. Read this collection and catch her live if you can.” – Giovanni “Spoz” Esposito.

“Storm Jemima is a surge of intensity gathering on your horizon. It is a tumbling of sentiments and sincerity of message, getting harder to ignore, always ready to drop. Nothing looks quite the same after it hits.” – Jasmine Gardosi.

“One of the most extraordinarily talented performers I have had the pleasure of seeing.” – Clive Oseman.

SAMPLE POEM:

DUST
You were created in this universe and you want to fit in?
Brewed in the heart of an explosion. Stardust.

A potential five hundred million planets
capable of supporting life, and we can’t all support each other on one.
A single quality (and I do mean quality) receives hate,
when 99.9% of species are already gone.

You are a black body.
A star,
absorbing all radiant energy,
emitting much more by far.

They believe they are the Sun,
which is to say, you are bigger and brighter.
The human eye factors in surrounding colours, so the appearance is whiter,
but the Sun is a green star.

A jealous ball of raging fire.

Your light breaks through turbulent atmosphere
illuminating the way for others,
the twinkle in your eye reveals every deflection,
causing a change of intensity in your colours.

They move like the billions of lifeforms on their skin
feast on champagne and caviar,
swim in oceans accommodating two hundred thousand different viruses,
but won’t gaze upon the beauty that you are.

Scared.
Scared they’re going to catch on,
catch themselves viewing rainbows in black and white.
Supernovas brought elements essential for survival,
and you are essential for this world to get survival right.

If someone looks at you like they want to fix you,
they will fall through the cracks,
not all star systems are binary,
and the cosmos exists naturally, it does not have to apologise for the way it acts.

Are you a galaxy?
With a black hole at the centre of you?
Black holes are very, very cold,
but galaxies will not be consumed.

Gravitational attraction pulls in matter,
this force works to ground you,
try to keep a stable orbit
until this force of nature is through.

One hundred and forty billion (or so) galaxies,
you’re not alone in this gloom.
And you’re about to be on fire
because when a flame is at its hottest, it appears blue.

13.8 billion years old
and getting more interesting by the day,
your age adds to your wonder,
it doesn’t take your worth away.

A teaspoon of neutron star weighs
about ten million tonnes,
and your weight, or size,
doesn’t dictate your levels of attraction.

More than twenty-four time zones means
you and your anxiety made it on time,
when you look into the starry sky you’re looking deep into the past,
so your punctuality after sunset is sublime.

Outer space is open to interpretation
and your silence is of tremendous value,
needing spectacles doesn’t make you a spectacle
when 95% of the universe is still out of view.

Survival on Earth is unnecessarily difficult,
and lives are so good at ruining lives,
but if we judge those who judge us we resolve nothing,
accepting our self is how we survive.

You see, you stand out against the back drop of this universe,
and almost all ordinary matter is empty space,
if someone struck a match on the moon, astronomers could spot the flame,
the right people will see you and your qualities will be embraced.

Finding flaws in someone else doesn’t make our own less visible,
throwing shade won’t change the shade of someone’s skin,
if you touch two pieces of the same type of metal together
in the vacuum of space, they will fuse.

And rainbows have always created a happiness within.

The static of a retro television
displays the Big Bang afterglow,
we won’t always have the correct channel of thought,
but the reason is bigger than we know.

The Sun rages, but it can still bring warmth and light,
and space has enough space for us all to progress.
At the bare bones of it we are all the same,
and if we are all simply dust, shouldn’t we clean up our mess?

 

From We’ve Done Nothing Wrong. We’ve Nothing to Hide: The Verve Anthology of Diversity Poems. Selected and Introduced by Andrew McMillan

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I am enjoying the inhale after the great exhale that was ‘ache’ – Scarlett Ward tells us what she went thought when putting together her debut collection ‘ache’ last year, and what she has been doing since.

Scarlett Ward’s incredible debut collection ache was published last year, and quickly became one of our best selling titles of 2019. With the launch of an eBook edition (which you can find HERE ) and an upturn on poetry purchasing generally during lockdown, ache has been soaring once more. it seemed like a good time to catch up with Scarlett and see what she feels about the collection know and what she has been up to since.

It’s been a year since you handed in your finished manuscript to us so that we could produce your wonderful book ache. Lots of poets are quite quick to outgrow their work. How do you feel about the collection now?

I remember what a wonderful feeling it was to finally hand it in after working on it for so long! Some poems I find quite difficult to return to, especially ones that deal with my sexual assault and mental health problems, however over time I’ve found that the more freely I can revisit them the less they haunt me. 

What’s nice is being able to revisit my poems and perform them from a much stronger place. I feel that I’m constantly maturing and evolving, but these poems were absolutely authentic to my experiences and the way I wanted to deliver them and I’m still very proud of what I produced.

Instagram question from Hannah Marie: How does your work change from first draft to final book? Also what is the editing process like?

In the beginning I was writing as much as possible and it was only when I felt I started to develop a theme and a tone within my poetry that I felt ready to start bringing a collection together. That’s a really important step actually, because the way in which your poems interact with one another in a collection influences the impact and understanding of the entire book, so I spent a lot of time with print-outs littering my living room floor agonising over what would be the right order for my book.

I think the editing process is as important as the creation process, and I actually cancelled a lot of social plans because I was so thoroughly consumed by my editing for a long time. As agonising as it is, I really love the process! Jo Bell said “cut the last two lines of your poem” and whilst you must obviously take that advice with a pinch of salt, it has actually served me extremely well! “How To Be A Poet” by Nine Arches Press taught me a lot about editing and the importance of making every single word “earn” its place in the poem. 

I never trust someone who tells me that they don’t edit and only preserve the raw first draft. Surely we mustn’t be that arrogant to think we are above improvement!

Instagram question from Hayden Robinson “did you find it helpful to research a publisher?”

Oh yes absolutely. I always knew I wanted to submit to Verve Poetry Press and that was because of what I had seen from them. My first encounter with Verve was being selected to have a poem published in the anthology celebrating the 5 year anniversary of Beatfreeks. I saw how this community of diverse and electrifying voices was being represented and I knew it was something I wanted to be involved in. I read Amera Saleh’s I Am Not From Here and Casey Bailey’s Adjusted and loved the quality of the books being produced. It’s really important to read books coming from the publisher you’re considering. I was dying to be part of the exciting and lively scene that Verve was building in the Midlands and took steps to put together a manuscript with Stuart’s help and guidance. My advice would be to research into and get to know a publisher and what they like to print, and see whether you would be a good fit together.

What are you busy with poetry-wise in lockdown?

At the moment I am busy working on my online workshops and editing services. I found that I have a real passion for the editing process, which I think originated from my day job as a copywriter, and then was exacerbated by my own personal experience publishing ache. The past few months I’ve been taking on clients who are looking for guidance, advice, proofreading services and general help with putting together their own collections.

I put the workshops on my Patreon, a subscription platform through which I can provide members with together writing prompts, exercises, wider reading and open submission recommendations. I’m finding it really fulfilling, and if anyone wants to sign up my shop is www.patreon.com/swbpoetry .

What are your plans for afterwards and where do you think you’ll take your poetry next?

I feel like my poetry is maturing all the time. I’ve always been an avid reader but at the moment during lockdown I am consuming books quite ferociously and I think this is one of the best ways to develop a critical perspective of the landscape of poetry to which we are currently contributing and being influenced by. I’m currently enjoying writing freely for various anthologies or competitions. I don’t think I’ll release another collection for a while as I am just enjoying the inhale after the great exhale that was ache.

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Genevieve Carver

‘I’ve got really used to performing with the band, so now I find it quite nerve-wracking when they are not there!’ Genevieve Carver talks poetry, develop-ment and what it’s like writing for her band, The Unsung.

Following on from a storming launch at Verve Poetry Festival in February, which everyone agreed blew the audience away, Genevieve Carver and her band, The Unsung, had to cancel most of the planned tour of their incredible poetry show, A Beautiful Way to be Crazy. The tour will be back, and when it is you should definitely see it, but in the mean time, we asked Genevieve to describe it to us and to explain how it fits together with both her solo performance and page poetry.

It seems a complicated move for a poet to form a band to create a poetry show. What made you want to follow this route?

This is the second show I’ve made with multi-instrumentalist band The Unsung (Ruth Nicholson, Tim Knowles and Brian Bestall). Our first show (confusingly titled The Unsung) was all about people whose deaths were caused by music – I’ve always been fascinated by the power of music, both dark and light.

With both our first show and A Beautiful Way to be Crazy, it made sense to work with live music firstly because of the subject matter, but also because I’m a big believer in bringing poetry to new audiences, and I think music gives people a ‘way in’. Plus, the sound and rhythm of words has always played a big part in my writing, and I tend to see poetry as a kind of music written with words anyway.

It is an extremely enjoyable but also a moving show. What were the key messages you were trying to communicate?

The show explores female experiences in the music industry, but also covers broader themes to do with gender, mental health and confidence.

Women make up just 30% of the music industry as a whole, and as little as 2% in certain, usually more tech-heavy roles. At the time I started researching this as an issue, I was also was starting to realise a lot of things about my own journey into performing – the confidence I lacked as a younger woman, the way I always felt the need to apologise for taking up space in the world. I think gender stereotypes are something you can go a long time without seeing, but once you see them, they won’t leave you alone, so I delved further and further in, talking to more and more people about their experiences.

I ended up interviewing almost 50 female and non-binary music practitioners including singers, instrumentalists, sound engineers, producers and events promoters and covering genres from classical to folk, electronica, rock, pop and jazz. I interviewed performers in a sex workers’ opera, internationally touring DJs and members of an all-female band of adults with learning difficulties. The Unsung has always been about bringing to the fore the stories of people who otherwise wouldn’t be heard, so it felt right to talk about my own experiences alongside a diverse range of other voices.

There are some other poems in your book of the show for A Beautiful Way to be Crazy that come from an earlier time when you were tending to work as a solo poet. How did you get into poetry, and how has your career progressed over time?

When I was about twelve years old a school friend came over and saw The Penguin Book of English Verse by my bedside. ‘You’re not actually reading that for fun are you?’ she said, and from then on I thought a love of poetry was something you were supposed to keep secret.

I wrote bits in my bedroom through uni, but only really got into it when I moved to Sheffield after I graduated. I was really lucky in finding a buzzing spoken word scene here, and started doing my first open mics in about 2011, when I was 25. I was working full time as an archaeologist then, but was doing more and more writing and performing, and starting to get booked locally for featured slots.

In my late 20s I had a bit of a nervous breakdown, which I won’t go into, but it led to me quitting my archaeology 

job. I started working part-time in a café and doing as much poetry as I could in between, including forming The Unsung in 2016, getting a few poems published in journals and magazines, and beginning to tour further afield. Over time I’ve been able to shift more and more of my focus and income to writing and performing, and am now fully self-employed. I’ve had some great opportunities recently, including being apprentice poet in residence at Ilkley Literature Festival, working in a writer’s room on a new drama series for Sky TV, collaborating with a movement artist a new piece for stage, and of course the publication of my first collection by Verve Poetry Press.

Has your poetry had to adapt itself to the work you are doing with The Unsung? It feels like quite a different beast to your previous solo poetry work.

I write differently if I’m writing for the band than say, if I’m writing what you might call a ‘page poem’. The poems I write for The Unsung tend to be more immediately accessible and rhythmical, so their meaning isn’t lost amongst everything else going on. I work very closely with the band to make sure the words and music are complementing rather than competing with each other, so that my voice and the voices of the other instruments are all working together to tell a story.

I’ve got really used to performing with the band, so now I find it quite nerve-wracking when they are not there! You forget how exposing it is when it’s just you up there, so I guess I’ve got a new-found respect for that.

 

You can buy a copy of Genevieve’s collection, including the entire show for A Beautiful Way to be Crazy HERE .

You can read more about Genevieve and her band as well as the poem, ‘Champagne, Cocktails & Sausages’ up on the ace Proletarian Poetry Website HERE .

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Jasmine Gardosi

Jasmine Gardosi is a Birmingham based poet of national and international standing and renown. She has appeared on BBC Radio 3’s The Verb, BBC Asian Network and Glastonbury Festival.

As well as performing regularly around the UK, she is expanding her international reach. Most recently, she had been featured by Button Poetry, the world’s largest spoken word platform, after being awarded an Honourable Mention for Oustanding International Entry in their 2018 video contest.

A Ledbury Poetry Festival board member, she also runs West Midlands Poets’ Place for Apples and Snakes, and regular school and community workshops, where she continues to combine sex education and creativity.

Incredibly Hurtz is Jasmine Gardosi’s first foray into print. It is also a labour of love. A single poem, performable, readable on the subject of sound, colour and individual pain (physical but also and most notably emotional).

Incredibly Hurtz is Jasmine Gardosi’s first foray into print. It is also a labour of love. A single poem, performable, readable on the subject of sound, colour and individual pain (physical but also and most notably emotional).

Jasmine’s incredible piece helps launch our new Verve Poetry Pamphlet series – ‘Pamphlet of Words’ – in which Spoken Word Poets of note explore the variety of ways performance pieces can be aimed resolutely at the page and yet still fly in performance.

‘What emerges in these pages is the range and ambition of her poetry across a full sequence – shot through [as it is] with a compassion, concern and attention which is never less than moving.’ – Luke Kennard

LINK TO REVIEW:

Vic Pickup on sphinxreview.co.uk

https://sphinxreview.co.uk/index.php/930-jasmine-gardosi-hurtz

SAMPLE POEM:

Natural phenomena

Are you watching a dazzling sunset
or your heart sink over the horizon?
Is that a rainbow
or your regret bending over the sky?
Is it a foggy morning
or can you not see through your grief today?
Are you taking a photo of the northern lights
or is that your loneliness writhing overhead?
Is it really an overcast day
or is that just your self-loathing blocking the sun?
Walk into it.

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Ben Norris

Ben Norris is a poet, playwright and actor. He is two-time national poetry champion – 2017 BBC Poetry Slam and 2013 UK All-Stars Poetry Slam – and has appeared everywhere from Latitude Festival to the Proms at the Royal Albert Hall. His debut solo show. ‘The Htichhikers’ Guide to the Family’ won the IdeasTap Underbelly Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival before touring the UK and Australia, and his first short film, commissioned by Channel 4, was nominated for a Royal Television Society Award. He is currently developing a new show about elite sport, ‘The Distance’.

Ben is from Nottingham and is currently poet-in-residence for Nottinghamshire Libraries, and a Creative Associate at Nottingham Playhouse. He also plays Ben Archer in ‘The Archers’ on BBC Radio Four.

 

Catalysed by the end of a complex polyamorous relationship played out on opposite sides of the world, some ending sees Norris revisit his parents’ earlier separation and uncover a grief he’d forbidden himself at the time.

These poems look unflinchingly at heartbreak and find it everywhere – in protracted attempts to untangle two lives and the people caught in the cross-fire, in the messy deaths of loved ones, and in the tragedy of men unable to express themselves; this is a pamphlet about endings of all kinds, how they intersect, and how we reconfigure ourselves in the wake of them. But there is love, hope, and forgiveness here too. All endings have the seeds of new beginnings in them, and as Norris’s poems unfurl, this becomes as much a eulogy to new-found friendship and self-love as it is an eloquent dissection of loss.

some ending is Ben Norris’ second pamphlet.

 

‘These poems are raw, fresh, and fluent, without a cliché or slack moment in sight. Norris conveys not only a sense of himself, but himself as someone on whom nothing is lost. Interesting, smart, sensitive, witty. He’s the real deal.’                        – COLM TÓIBÍN

‘These are moving, witty, and beautifully-crafted poems which are never complacent, never letting us stay on the surface.’ – ANDREW MCMILLAN

SAMPLE POEM:

a plenary question for victorian medical practitioners and their ancient
predecessors concerning the role of the organs and humours in the governance  of feeling

tell me     who decided that the heart is where love lives?
I have sent fifty beating red emojis this week
to friends in distress and people I want
to say thank you to      people I am missing
people I missed     a new friend is listening to silences
differently      an old friend is helping her     I feel a displacement
tell me      where is the small intestines emoji     I can’t very well
send you the little poo and expect you to know what I mean
where is the insomnia emoji     the glowing yellow
person staring into a fridge not hungry just empty
you have given us this new language but
no language to talk about it     tell me
what is the emoji for safety      what is the emoji for
thank you: I didn’t know how to say any of this before

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Ali Lewis

‘My poems were very bad for ages…’ Ali Lewis explains his relatively slow move towards publishing his first pamphlet – Hotel, out now with Verve Poetry Press

The launch of Ali Lewis’s incredible debut pamphlet, Hotel, due at Foyles in Charing Cross Road on March 18th, was postponed along with so many other events this Spring. So we wanted to ask Ali some of the questions he might have answered at his launch – what kind of poet he is trying to be, what his influences are, and why it has taken him SO long to find his way to producing his debut pamphlet. After all, it truly has been worth the wait – or as Kathryn Maris has said, ‘Implausibly excellent, Hotel marks the debut of an exceptional new talent.’

Ali, you write about such varied subjects! Do you think there’s an underlying theme or question linking all of the poems in this pamphlet?

There are definitely a lot of subjects in the pamphlet, yes. Knife-throwing, waterslides, the heat death of the universe, diamond cutting, how bad people were at sports before not smoking was invented. And, of course, the poems are all also about love, time, loss, et cetera. — but every text, whether it means to or not, tells you about those things.

Between those two poles of specificity, I’m interested in power relationships, which is to say all relationships. I’m interested in the unexpected and untraceable ways we do harm when we’re trying not to, or at least not trying to (what economists might call the ‘negative externalities’) — in how we manage to hurt and help each other through both our attention and our inattention.

One aspect of this, which comes up repeatedly, is the almost inherent tension between the two useful things men can do at the moment: speaking up and shutting up; acting and getting out of the way. Obviously this is a contradiction I’ve not solved, hence there are poems, like ‘The Englishman’, which are critiques of the many horrible ways we as men behave, but there are also poems like ‘Wild Fig’, in which the speakers actively try to background themselves and centre the experience of a more important other.

Something which, of course, is impossible, while you’re the one speaking.

As well as the variety of subjects, there’s also a variety of form and voices…

Yes, I think this probably relates to the influence of other writers. I’m fascinated with the way poems talk with each other, and with ideas from elsewhere, so if, on a particular day, I’m writing differently, it’s probably because I’m reading differently.

I’m actually about to teach a course at the Poetry School on influence and taking inspiration from other writers. Karen McCarthy Woolf, who I was thrilled to get a cover quote from, is a master at this, weaving together ideas and voices, most obviously in her couplings. Bridget Minamore’s ‘zadie smith’s first novel is’ is another poem that does this amazingly. It’s probably the poem I give out at workshops most often.

I don’t have a coupling in Hotel, but there’s a glosa and a poem-beginning-with-a-line-by. Kay Ryan, whose quatrain I quote in that glosa, is a writer who’s been particularly important to me. Her ear — her facility with what she calls recombinant rhyme — is amazing. I hope there’s some of her influence visible in my shorter lyrics.

Often I can pinpoint the exact poem or poet I was reading when I wrote a particular piece of my own. ‘Making Love to the Knife Thrower’, for example, I wrote the same day I read Abigail Parry’s Jinx. I was reading Jane Hirshfield when I wrote ‘Sonnet’; Alex Bell when I wrote ‘The Englishman’; Kathryn Maris when I wrote ‘Test Scenario’. She’s probably been my most important influence, through both her work and her teaching.

Your work is widely published and it also strikes me as being popular and accessible for non-poets. This feels like a real skill to have struck and maybe quite a rare one. Are you aware of finding this balance when you write or is it incidental? 

That’s kind of you to say. It is something I work on, yes. I view the poems I write and read primarily as a method of communication. An attempt to get across some idea, or situation, or state of mind, or to receive one, even if it’s not the same one that was sent.

I don’t necessarily mean that I want my poems or anyone else’s to be ‘simple’ or parsable into plain prose. So much of what a poem is is what’s not translatable (I don’t say ‘reducible’) to prose. I only mean that I want the ones I show to other people to be thoughtful of them as readers.

You’ve waited a relatively long time before bringing out your first pamphlet. Were you waiting for the right set of poems to assemble as opposed to simply knowing you had enough ‘good ones’ to fill a pamphlet?   

Mostly it took so long because my poems were very bad for ages and nobody sensible wanted to publish them. (I don’t say this to be performatively modest. Loads of even really amazing writers have written truly dreadful poems, and every time I find one it’s an enormous comfort to me).

I’m embarrassed looking back at some of the poems I shopped around in the past — and thankful to the editors who didn’t accept them — but I try to tell myself that this shame is evidence of my continuing growth, rather than of my enduring terribleness revealed by the clarity of hindsight.

Perhaps I’ll also feel embarrassed about the poems in Hotel in a few years, but I hope not, because the real answer to your question is that I waited for poems that still felt right to me even after a few months or years had passed. Ones that had a bit of staying power.

Getting to that point, both in terms of the poems themselves and my own confidence in them, owes in the most part to help from some wonderful teachers and organisations: Maura Dooley at Goldsmiths, Kathryn Maris, who I’ve mentioned, the Poetry School, TOAST Poets, Cove Park, and Verve. They’re all great.

Of course, by my own logic, feeling good about the poems in Hotel means I’ve stopped growing as a person. I guess you can’t have it both ways.

What’s next for you, following the launch of Hotel? Should we cross our fingers for a full collection from you any time soon?

I particularly love pamphlets, so I’m in no rush to bring out a full collection. Right now, I’m working on a pamphlet called Since We Last. There’ll be a sequence of ‘Since’ poems and a sequence of ‘We’ poems and a sequence of ‘Last’ poems, and they’ll all be very sad and about love.

Plus, we’ll be trying to set up a launch for Hotel once it’s safe to do so!

 

                                                                                                                                                 

 

You can read Ali’s poem, The Englishman, which was recently Poem of the Week at Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre (and features in Hotel) HERE.

…and his poem, Wild Fig, which was poem of the week at the LRB Bookshop HERE

 

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Clive Birnie

Clive Birnie is a poet and artist who works in both text and visual media. He finds inspiration at a place where poetry and art collide into something which gets called text-based-art but sometimes he types up the results as text only poems such as those included in his wonderful Verve Poetry Press pamphlet Palimpsest. Clive is also owner and editor in chief at Burning Eye Books.

He was the Hashtag# poet in residence at the StAnza International Poetry Festival in 2016, has exhibited work at the Saatchi backed The Other Art Fair, the Evolver Prize Exhibition, at Spike Island and in Millennium Square, Bristol. Palimpsest is the fourth in a series of experimental poetry sequences following Terminal Insemination Art (Silkworms Ink 2011), Cutting Up the Economist (Burning Eye 2014) and Hashtag# Poetry (Burning Eye 2016).

Clive’s pamphlet Palimpsest explores a near future where the banal merges with the bizarre, truth and fiction blur and digital and analogue collide. These are poems that are made rather than written in the conventional sense.

Poems that are built from scraps of text appropriated from magazines, junk mail, ephemera; erased, redacted, cut up and overwritten with original lines to create palimpsests. The title is thus both a creative technique revealed in the visible lines of construction and an eponymous anti-superhero in whose steps we follow as she emerges from a collage of fractured narratives and cinematic dispatches from a dark and murderous hinterland. This is a truly exceptional piece of work and well worth investigating.

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Roxy Dunn

‘I confess I draw on my own life a lot.’ Roxy Dunn answers questions (and makes confessions) about her new Verve Poetry Press pamphlet Big Sexy Lunch.

In the wake of the publication of Roxy Dunn’s wonderful new pamphlet Big Sexy Lunch and to an extent in lieu of the postponed launch that was originally planned for March 18th at Foyles on Charing Cross Road, I thought it would be a good idea to talk to Roxy about what kind of poet she is trying to be and what kind of poems she is trying to write. She doesn’t say this, but I will: she is a fresh and compelling new voice in contemporary poetry – modern and sharp, sassy, funny, but with an uncanny ability to disarm and move the reader at precisely the same time. (How does she do that?). Roxy has  a big future in poetry. One look at her pamphlet will tell you why.

This is your second pamphlet, following 2017’s Clowning which you published with Eyewear. What’s changed in your writing since then?  

Well, my initial response to this question (which sounds very basic as an answer!) is that my poems have become longer. (Clowning had a couple of four liners in it if I recall.) Expanding on an idea/pushing it further is something I’ve been actively focussing on. I also think this pamphlet is perhaps more cynical than my earlier work. Not in a bad way necessarily, hopefully just in an honest way. 

As well as writing poetry, you’ve been in Babylon (Channel 4) and your Radio 4 comedy ‘Joz and Roxy are Useless Millennials’ has just come out. How do you think your work as a comedian and an actor interacts with your poetry? 

I think I try to look for the humour in whatever it is I’m writing about. Not always, but you’ll often find at least small examples of it in most of the poems in this pamphlet. I also think I have a sense of hearing the lines as I write them which probably comes from my being an actor and wanting not only to read and write poetry but my desire to speak it aloud. 

Damon Albarn, Drake, Netflix, Socrates, Hedda Gabler, Virginia Woolf — so many of your poems mix pop culture and ‘high culture’. How important do you think it is for poets to engage with the contemporary? 

I actually think one of the pitfalls of my work is how contemporary it is. I remember another poet in a class of mine once very reasonably posing the question, ‘will this poem last?’ And it’s a very valid point. It feels like maybe it’s a trade off – that by writing in a way that people right now will immediately engage and relate to, you decrease the chances of that poem surviving beyond its immediate lifespan?  

Frank O’Hara appears twice in the book. What do you think his influence is? Who or what else influences your work? 

I really love his poems and he’s definitely influenced the way I write in terms of showing me how conversational and direct the language in a poem can be. In terms of what else influences my writing, I confess I draw on my own life a lot (which feels like I’m now confessing a confession!) This isn’t to say my poems are autobiographical but they all come from a place of having experienced either a similar situation, thought, or feeling to the one I’m writing about and then changing the specifics to fictionalise/poeticise it.  

You have a sharp, breezy, very modern voice, so readers might miss the formal work going on, but there are Hannah Sullivan-esque couplets in ‘Weeds’, there’s a subtle enclosed rhyme scheme in ‘Sweet Casanova’, there’s even a glosa (a complex Spanish form of court poetry!). What’s your relationship with form?

 I’m delighted you’ve alerted readers to the ‘formal work’ in that case! It’s definitely an aspect of poetry I feel less comfortable with but the Poetry School classes have been instrumental in alerting me to these forms/rhyme schemes you mention above. In fact, I remember Kathryn Maris introducing me to Hannah Sullivan’s work in one of the classes I took there. [Verve Stablemate] Ali Lewis was in the same class! Small world! 

I know it’s sometimes hard to think forward when a pamphlet of yours has just been released – but do you see this is something that could lead to a collection some time in the not too distant future?

Ha, I feel so very far away from thinking about a collection! I’m still continuing to take classes and work on honing my skills as a poet. I feel like the stuff I’m writing at the moment is quite different to what I’ve previously written and I’m currently trying to push myself to be less literal when I write (which is a challenge for me!). I’d love to bring out a full collection at some point in the future but I’m not in any rush to. Right now my focus is on developing my craft, and also continuing with my other writing projects which aren’t poetry related, but feed into my poetry nonetheless. 

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You can read Roxy’s poem ‘July 24th’, which was Poem of the Week on the Oxford Brookes Poetry Centre newsletter (and features in her new pamphlet Big Sexy Lunch) HERE.

…and her poem, Exes at Lunch, which was Poem of the Week at the LRB Bookshop HERE

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Louise Fazackerley

Louise Fazackerley is a poet from the exotic Northern streets of Orwell’s Wigan.  In performance she explores the synergy between poetry and movement.  Her socially conscious writing makes the ugly beautiful and the mundane fantastical.

Winner of the BBC Radio New voices award, Louise is signed to Nymphs & Thugs spoken word label where she released two audio books- Love Is A Battlefield and Bird St.  Her collection The Lolitas is the subject of ‘Love Is A Rebellious Bird’ an installation and film work by international artists AL + AL.   She recently supported punk poet legend Dr. John Cooper Clarke on his sold-out tour.  

Louise is a director at Write Out Loud, a national organisation supporting grass roots poetry and currently poet-in-residence at Lily Lane Primary School.

She is a highly experienced workshop leader, facilitating in education, prison and community settings.   You may have seen or heard her on BBC 1, BBC Radio 3,4,5 or read her blog in The Guardian Northerner.

 

‘A great performer’  Will Self

‘A voice that tingles with promise’  Ian McMillan

‘I wish I’d discovered her 5 years ago.  I love her and you will too.’  John Cooper Clarke

The Lolitas is an extraordinary first collection. 

It is a genre distorting, disconcerting, dystopia of daughters, single parenting, love and abuse.  From the lyric tenderness of the first kiss, to a place where poetry borders with reportage and records the experience of working with groomed girls in the care system.  

Darkly humorous, the work weaves working class narratives of fiction, fact and foretelling, in an intensely readable, page-turning glut of the gamine.        

The collection is in part a response to Nabokov’s Lolita,  a response to the #metoo movement, and includes poems that explore the story of Shamina Begum, the Jeffrey Epstein scandal and how Japan treats teenage girls. It is – a powerful addition to the growing canon of #MeToo literature.

Also in BREAKING NEWS Verve Poetry Press are proud to be bringing out Louise’s pamphlet ‘The Uniform Factory’ this Autumn. It is based on her BBC Radio Three Verve New Voices show ‘Love is a Battlefield’ which is already out on audio with the ace Nymphs & Thugs. This exciting work will be published very early in September 2020 and will be available for pre-order here very soon. (Louise therefore becomes the first poet to release a second book with Verve Poetry Press!) Watch this space, and meanwhile enjoy the extracted poem featured below.

Excerpt from ‘Remembrance Someday’ in The Uniform Factory

 

The poppy, dropped on blue lino

at the side of the bath.

 

A prick of the pin, a rake of the knife,

that plastic green stem is whirring round

and round, tickticktick,, twitching, defibrillating,

the raw red paper of helicopter blades

begin to hum and roar- men scream in relief,

an hours wait, the morphine’s wearing off,

this man, this boy is still alive, handover to the doctors,

they can fly away without jumping

 

from the white of the bath like the white of the

ward like the white of the eyes of one, two,

one, two, one, two, one, two, three boys

who you saved, who were supposed to survive,

like the white of the poppy the pacifist wears

like the white of your anger, like the white

shrouds of Afghan dead, like the dirty, white

of my wedding vows, like the white teeth

of Azad, haggling for chickens,

like the white of the fallen feathers, like the

white of divorce papers in the shredder,

like the white of the skirting boards

you scrub and scrub, like the white of the

toothpaste on your daughter’s cheek

like the white bone of the domino