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Elle Dillon-Reams

Originally from Brighton, Elle has lived in London for the last 12 years. After dabbling in various poetry nights across the UK, she won the Genesis Slam in 2019 and is going ahead to the Hammer and Tongue National Finals at The Royal Albert Hall that was slated to take place last year. In 2019 she also performed as Boiler House London’s International Women’s Day Poet. After winning the Imperial College Nature Slam in 2020 with her piece FOR FREDDY, she was then the International Women’s Day poet for Imperial College London in their 2021 celebrations, running a bespoke workshop for doctors, mathematicians and scientists. 

Her debut play HoneyBEE, a spoken word solo show, received 5 star reviews, sold out at the Brighton fringe and VAULT Festival, and won both the Three Weeks Editor’s Award and Best Newcomer from The Scotsman in Edinburgh. She wrote and recorded an original piece of poetry for ‘Experimental Words’ collaborating with Scientist Sam Gallivan launching in June 2021,

and also recently recorded her second spoken word solo show MEAT, collaborating with musicians and sound designers Porscha Present and Emer Dineen. The audio recording will be released as part of Flugelman Productions’ 6-part podcast series of plays Make Me in Summer 2021.

Elle has had several pieces published by Dear Damsels, and was last year longlisted for the Pentabus Writer-in-Residence. She has been featured on Tyrone Lewis’ Spoken Word channel Process Productions and regularly records with MuddyFeet poetry. Her favourite poets producing the works most dog-eared and well loved on her bookshelf are Ocean Vuong, Polarbear, Cecilia Knapp, Caleb Femi, Kae Tempest, and Vanessa Kissule.

She facilitates poetry and performance, direct, and mentors at several establishments in London including charity and community theatre YATI (Young Actors Theatre Islington), East 15 Acting School, and for Mountview Drama school has been commissioned to write various new pieces of Spoken Word for Generation X, an outreach project designed to engage with groups of teenagers in the Peckham Community entitled My Generation.

Maladaptive is Elle’s first collection of Poetry.

MALADAPTIVE

Maladaptive is about identity, wintering, womanhood, love and home. Exploring the loss of self and homesickness for that which is no longer there, grief for those gone and the rebuilding of hope and finding the light in the dark.

Whilst being a hugely honest, personal and vulnerable collection, Maladaptive is accessible, relatable and comforting. A raw exploration of mental health with a necessary, playful dose of finding comedy in unexpected places, a mindfulness in the natural world drawing on Elle’s growing up by the seaside and feeling a strong drawing to the water. And sourcing the bonds that connect us all as much more than monoliths, that which make us feel we belong.

'"Elle has a powerful grasp of language, deploying words with an often startling force - though there is gentleness here, too. There's a visceral connection to experience, with the everyday nestling up against the political and passionate. Breathtaking .'
Dan Simpson

SAMPLE POEM

ZWICKY 18

Flecks of burning
Irregular
Searching for companion galaxy
Interacting triggers black holes of
Worry
Constellations of conversations on the cusp of
She cuts off her hair, declares ballet is not for this girl
Explosion of potential leaves trail behind
Mum watches through a far away telescope
She is the astronaut of imagination
Daydreams on thumbsucks
Tumble tucks into pools outside of school playgrounds
Pounding feet of older children
Year 6 supernovas who don’t know her but show her COOL
Her territory lies in pages of stories, thrust into selecting her
Best Friend
Little cheeks erupt in apology
Flecks burning red
Her mouth clusters of dust.

'Elle is a witch, the best kind of witch, casting spells that reach deep into the souls of her readers and audiences, and pull out kindness and hope. Elle’s poetry is tender and timeless, speaking from a place of raw honesty that is so beautiful it often seems like magic .' 
Kayla Martel Feldman

Elle Dillon-Reams takes to the Genesis Grand Final stage with a powerful poem that deals with the rise of sexual assault on the tube and why feminism is so essential in the battle against such abuse. Filmed December 2019.

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VERVE Poetry Press: 2021 to 2022!

At the end of a huge publishing year for VERVE and the beginning of yet another one, Verve Poetry Press Founder and Editor Stuart Bartholomew reflects on 2021 and what exciting things may be coming soon…

LOOKING BACK...

Well phew! What a year 2021 for VERVE Poetry Press. With no festival to distract us (don’t worry, we are back in Feb 22) it was a time to concentrate on our publishing side. While live events weren’t really an option most of the time, which harmed our ability to launch books properly, we did our best to run Zoom launches where possible (some incredible evenings were had on that most intimate of settings!) and even tried our hand at live streaming a multipoet event and chat!

In 2021, our publishing programme was part-funded by Arts Council England. This allowed us for the first time to employ help with our marketing – Kibriya Mehrban has done a stunning job blogging, producing wonderful monthly newsletters that read like magazines, and helping us to get our books out there when events haven’t been an option. She has made such a difference and will continue to do so this year too!

With our funding, we were able to have our biggest year of publishing yet! We had our second open submissions window for full collections only in March (over 400 manuscripts submitted 🤯) and produced a wonderful season of collections and pamphlets of every stamp.

A highlight among many has to be Rushika Wick’s glorious debut Afterlife As Trash which was highly commended at the Forwards, reviewed in Poetry Review and was featured in Poem of the Week in The Telegraph. But we are incredibly proud of all the books we published in 2021.

LOOKING FORWARD...

Now in early 2022 and on the eve of our first three publications of the year, we have another massive season of publishing ahead of us, before reining things in a bit in 2023. So many exciting books including debuts by Nicki Heinen, Qudsia Akhtar, Kathy Pimlott and Kayleigh Campbell – spoken word from Kat Lyons, Imogen Stirling and Elle Dillon-Reams, an unexpected fourth collection from Sarah James and pamphlets from Erica Gillingham, Betty Doyle and Peter deGraft Johnsonwhich are all up for pre-order.

We will open submissions once again, this time in May, and will be accepting finished full collection and pamphlet length manuscripts, to search for that handful of books that will make our 2023 season sing… we can’t wait to see what we are sent!

We have our sister festival returning, featuring many of our Press poets and many, many others. After that, we are partnering with the BBC on this year’s Birmingham-based Contains Strong Language Festival in September which will be epic!

We hope that 2022 will see us able to get our poets out and about to readings and launch events much more than last year, and even have plans for a bi-monthly bi-city monthly night with open mic! Keep your ears to the ground for all our news!

I feel that we are beginning to establish ourselves as a press to watch and a champion of variety and diversity as well as excellence in poetry. We are working hard to be an indie poetry press worthy of the name. We thank you for all your support!

Recent additions to our pantheon! Could you join them?

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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Imogen Stirling

‘Writing the beautiful, flawed characters of Love The Sinner was a comfort during the isolated times of the pandemic. Following their entangled lives reminded me of the joys of community and cities, with the collection ultimately being a celebration of all it means to be human.’

Imogen Stirling is a Glasgow-based artist. She is a performance poet, theatre-maker, musician, writer and facilitator. She was the inaugural Writer-in-Residence for Paisley Book Festival 2021, is currently leading on Wigtown Book Festival’s youth programme and features as a writer/performer on BAFTA-winning Sky Arts documentary, Life & Rhymes, hosted by Benjamin Zephaniah. Imogen is a highly regarded artist who has performed her work widely throughout the UK and abroad (inc. BBC, Latitude Festival, Lindisfarne Festival, Neu! Reekie!, Sofar Sounds). Imogen is best recognised for her five-star debut collection and show #Hypocrisy which sold out at Edinburgh and Prague Fringe Festivals (Speculative Books, 2019) and was a participant of the BBC Words First talent development scheme (BBC Radio 1Xtra, BBC Asian Network and BBC Contains Strong Language). 

She was awarded ‘Artist of the Year 2021’ (Scottish Emerging Theatre Awards/National Theatre of Scotland), is part of the Convergence 2022 screenwriting cohort and is co-founder of Siren Theatre Company (Tron Theatre, Ayr Gaiety). Imogen’s work has been described as ‘life-affirming artistry’ (Everything Theatre) and ‘a tonic for the tribal times we live in’ (Darren McGarvey). 

LOVE THE SINNER

This is a book adaptation of Imogen Stirling’s show-in-progress. A fusion of poetry, theatre and electronic music, Love The Sinner is a modern retelling of the stories of the seven deadly sins. Benjamin Zephaniah has called the show ‘the work of a lyrical genius’.

Swooping from the mundane to the immense, Stirling’s long-form poetry weaves narratives of human experience.

This story sees ancient roots clasp hands with modern compassion to explore human frailty, love and resilience, while the threat of ecological crisis rumbles in the background. 

'A rich and other worldly book, a compelling work woven with gold threads of resistance and resilience, connection and human nature.'
Salena Godden

SAMPLE POEM

Beginnings

Cast from the mind of a Greek,
they are seven.  
Etched in memory and manuscript, 
they act as guide,
warning
and legend. 
Crude definitions
caught somewhere between complex and simple, 
their cardinal intelligence documents
a testament of misdemeanour. 
Impressive, really  
See their history and stature,
standing as pinnacles, their vision held
t  e  r  r  i  f  i  c   v  a  s  t  n  e  s  s  

They span millennia
to tell us of sin.

'This collection demonstrates just how creative a thoughtful and intelligent poet can get with sin. I think this is the work of a lyrical genius. It is crafted by a great poet, and crafted with emotional depth. There's nothing like this. There's no one like Imogen.' 
Benjamin Zephaniah

#HYPOCRISY

This is a book adaptation of Imogen Stirling’s five-star show, with illustrations by Sean Mulvenna.
 
#Hypocrisy was originally performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2018, before transferring to London’s Theatre503 and touring around the UK and Europe. An audio version of the show (featuring an original score) can be found on Spotify and Bandcamp.
'Exactly the sort of poetry we need right now.'
Alan Bissett

Rehearsal footage taken prior to Love The Sinner’s showcase at the Tron Theatre’s Outside Eyes event (October 2019).

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New Year, New Releases

Seeing as 2022 is already barrelling towards us, there’s no harm in letting you know that our new year’s resolution is the same as always: to keep bringing you brilliant poetry from wonderful, talented poets – and here’s the proof. 

Below are details of just the first five collections we’ll be putting out in 2022, plus the inside scoop on the poets responsible for them.

They’re all available for preorder with free P&P along with a few(!) others you can check out here.

Nicki Heinen – There May Not Be A Reason Why

due jan 22

‘The astonishing poems in Nicki Heinen’s new collection have an exceptional diamond clarity and a richly self-aware sense of humour, transmuting dark matter into intense beauty. This is brilliant and haunting work.’
Nick Drake

Nicki Heinen has been sectioned and hospitalised under the mental health act on several occasions during her life. As such, her debut collection contains vivid descriptions of hospitals and her incarceration in them. 

‘… rotting plaster, the cracked tiles erupting weeds, a summer gone bad in the crater of today, yesterday, tomorrow, every day the same but for the occasional bath.’

She has also experienced long periods of freedom, often chaperoned as it is, by its evil twin brother, loneliness. At times, freedom can be an incarceration of its own.

‘…I ask my lovers if they will say my name, gently, as you did; / they cannot. They take the mirror and hold it up to my face. / Look, they say, you are alone.’

It is no exaggeration to state that, in this astonishing debut full collection, Nicki shows time and again that she has the imagination, the wit and the craft to be able to move almost nimbly beyond all these restrictions. She has produced a book of great power and invention, with imagery you can taste! It is poetry of some power that can raise you up through the roof of the cage and out into the air!

Nicki Heinen

Nicki Heinen was born in Germany but moved to Birmingham, U.K at the age of 6. She studied English at Girton College, Cambridge University, where she won the Barbara Wrigley Prize for Poetry. Her work has been published in a variety of print and on-line magazines and anthologies, including Magma and Bloodaxe’s Staying Human anthology. She was shortlisted for the Pat Kavanagh Prize in 2012, and commended in the Winchester Prize 2018. She founded and hosts Words & Jazz, a spoken word and music night, at the Vortex Jazz Café, London. She lives in North London.

Elle Dillon-Reams – Maladaptive

due jan 22

Maladaptive is about identity, wintering, womanhood, love and home. Exploring the loss of self and homesickness for that which is no longer there, grief for those gone and the rebuilding of hope and finding the light in the dark.

Whilst being a hugely honest, personal and vulnerable collection, Maladaptive is accessible, relatable and comforting. A raw exploration of mental health with a necessary, playful dose of finding comedy in unexpected places, a mindfulness in the natural world drawing on Elle’s growing up by the seaside and feeling a strong drawing to the water. And sourcing the bonds that connect us all as much more than monoliths, that which make us feel we belong.

Elle Dillon-Reams

Originally from Brighton, Elle has lived in London for the last 12 years. After dabbling in various poetry nights across the UK, she won the Genesis Slam in 2019 and is going ahead to the Hammer and Tongue National Finals at The Royal Albert Hall that was slated to take place last year. In 2019 she also performed as Boiler House London’s International Women’s Day Poet. After winning the Imperial College Nature Slam in 2020 with her piece FOR FREDDY, she was then the International Women’s Day poet for Imperial College London in their 2021 celebrations, running a bespoke workshop for doctors, mathematicians and scientists. 

Imogen Stirling – Love The Sinner

due jan 22

Love The Sinner is the second collection from poet and theatre-maker, Imogen Stirling. A fusion of poetry, theatre and electronic music, it will premiere as a stage show later in 2022.

sirens, shutters, smashed glass and traffic hums
itchy feet
twitching thumbs
the city thrums with unrest
turns a buzz of thought


The seven deadly sins are alive and kicking hard in contemporary Scotland.

Swooping from the mundane to the immense, Stirling’s long-form poetry weaves narratives of human experience. A loose alliance of extraordinary and unextraordinary characters struggle to comprehend their identities in a world bladed with criticism and obsessed with self-betterment. This story sees ancient roots clasp hands with modern compassion to explore human frailty, love and resilience, while the threat of ecological crisis rumbles in the background.   

Mirror and rallying cry both, Love The Sinner reflects on the meaning of being human today.

Imogen Stirling

Imogen is a Glasgow-based spoken word poet, theatre-maker and vocalist. She was the inaugural Writer-in-Residence for Paisley Book Festival 2021 and appeared on the BAFTA-winning Sky Arts documentary, Life & Rhymes. Imogen is an established performer (inc. BBC, Sofar Sounds, Latitude Festival, Neu! Reekie!, Aye! Write). She is best recognised for her five-star debut show #Hypocrisy (sell-out runs at Edinburgh Fringe and Prague Fringe; UK tour) and featured in the BBC Words First talent development scheme. She co-founded Siren Theatre Company, whose production Text Me When You Get Home is being developed with Tron Theatre, Creative Scotland and Glasgow & Clyde Rape Crisis. Imogen’s work has been described as ‘life-affirming artistry’ (Everything Theatre) and ‘a tonic for the tribal times we live in’ (Darren McGarvey).

Kathryn O’Driscoll – Cliff Notes

due feb 22

Kathryn O’Driscoll’s debut collection comes from the edge of being alive, being sane, and being heard. Exploring grief, sexual abuse, mental illness, isolation and recovery, Cliff Notes forms the story of many losses and what is left behind. 

Poetry from the precipice oscillating between beauty and brutality, Cliff Notes examines how our experiences shape our ideas about who we are. Intrusive thoughts, metaphor, and facts are woven together until reality is indistinguishable from a dysfunctional mind’s perception of it.

A biological cartography of the effects of trauma and silence, both enforced and self-imposed, this is a portrait of the body as the site of betrayal but also redemption. O’Driscoll’s writing is sharply human as she unflinchingly excavates the grimmest places and combs through the decay to find if there is anything alive growing there still. Yet amid all the darkness, each poem is a defiant flare of hope that change is still possible.

Cliff Notes sets you adrift, struggling to keep your head above water that will either save or destroy you with its next wave. This collection won’t let you catch your breath. This is poetry as survival and suffering, with no easy answers about which will win in the end. 

Kathryn O’Driscoll

Kathryn O’Driscoll is a spoken word poet, writer and activist from Bath, England. She talks openly about disabilities, mental health, LGBTQIA+ issues and joys and gender politics in her wide range of poems. She is the current UK Slam Champion. Aside from performing poetry across the South West, she has performed at the Edinburgh Fringe, at multiple UK National competitions, on BBC Radio Bristol and was featured on the Sky Arts spoken word TV show Life and Rhymes.

Kat Lyons – Love Beneath The Nails

due feb 22

MENOPAUSE? SERIOUSLY? WTF?

Kat thought they were far too young to worry about menopause. Biology had other ideas…
Dry Season is a spoken word theatre show that interweaves music, movement and medical texts with original poetry and animation.

Using the role of women in fairytales as a starting point, Kat takes the audience on a journey through a chaotic year of hormone issues, NHS visits and unexpected connections.

Honest, intimate and threaded through with dark humour, Dry Season uses Kat’s experience of premature ovarian failure to question societal expectations of age and gender, and explore wider issues around mental health, identity and how we cope with loss.

Containing the full stage script for DRY SEASON as well as many of Kat’s best performance and page poetry on overlapping themes – this wonderful debut collection gives a rounded and detailed view of Kat, the poet and performer. It is an incredible read!

‘In writing that is cinematic and intimate Lyons balances deftly on the bridge between what is spoken and what finds life on the page. Experimental and innovative this debut first collection adventures across a range of poetics including two heartbreaking sets of cantos circling grief and sexual terrorism. Beautiful.’
Joelle Taylor

Kat Lyons

Kat is a Bristol-based writer, performer, facilitator and creative producer. They have performed at poetry events and festivals across the UK, have a full collection forthcoming in 2022 from Verve Poetry Press and have recently finished developing a spoken word theatre show exploring age, identity and menopause. Kat is passionate about using the power of stories to connect people to themselves, each other and the environment.

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In Conversation with Annie Fan

Since she was tragically unable to attend her own launch event, we’ve been desperate to catch up with amazing VPP poet Annie Fan. We finally pinned her down to talk about her gorgeous pamphlet Woundsong and everything she’s been busy with since…

Hello, Annie! How are you doing? Have things calmed down since your pamphlet launch or are you still as busy as ever?

I’m on a bit of a hiatus from academics and work, so have spent the past few months writing and reading – it’s been so great to do something so wholly creative! Currently, I’m part of the London Library’s Emerging Writers Programme, and am also a Ledbury Critic; both are busy schemes, but I’m learning so much, too (and hopefully have a review forthcoming in PN Review!). For a bit of fun, I’m helping a friend write some opera scenes based on the French trouvère tradition, which will then be set to music – very exciting and very, very new work.

Woah! So just a different kind of busy, then. Good for you!

It’s been about half a year since your gorgeous pamphlet Woundsong was published. Could you tell us a bit about how it came about and what it means to you?

I’ve really enjoyed writing about femininities and representations of gender for a long time; I came across the idea of gender as a wounding in a fantastic peer’s work – Brynne Rebele-Henry’s Autobiography of a Wound – and I don’t think I’ve stopped thinking about it! 

When I was writing the poems in the pamphlet, I was thinking a lot about the low church Anglicanism that I’d grown up with, and the complexity of Christian religious rituals I came across in Oxford; the female body/form is also subject to so many secular rituals, and I found the connections between those really fascinating. And how they might both relate to growing up, in general. Being feminine, for better or worse, for me, has always been a process of becoming, of growing towards some sort of divine ideal in my head that can never be reached.

Those are some incredibly complicated and delicate subjects – how did you go about writing them for this pamphlet? Did it go as planned?

The poems span a lot of years! The oldest poem is ‘Dreamscape’, which I wrote when I was fifteen – a sort of lurid fever-dream of a poem – and the newest ones were written right before I submitted to Verve. I’ve tried to write this pamphlet a lot of times, but I think it really came together when I stopped trying to force the poems to fit together through editing, and instead wrote poems to add to the existing collection.

Well we’re endlessly glad it turned out the way it did and that we’re the ones who got to publish it!

Speaking of lurid fever dreams… one of the exciting things about this pamphlet is that you’re never quite sure what you’re going to see when you next turn the page – you enjoy playing with form?

It’s really, really good fun! The form of the poems change a fair bit depending on what shape I feel the poem inherently is – I tend to write very quickly on a computer, so it’s a lot easier to be playful with form.

Annie reads and talks a little about her writing process for her poem “How to Invert a Hyperbolic Function”. 

Between being part of Barbican Young Poets and the Ledbury Poetry Critics programme as well as being involved with various other poetry organisations/publications, it seems like the poetry community is a big part of your life. Does that feed into your work?

It’s always so great to hear what other people are thinking about, in relation to their own art: what poets they’re reading, what shows or events they’re seeing, and what’s generally on their mind! I love hearing about stuff that has no clear relation to contemporary poetry, in particular; I think it’s when you find the strangest, most arresting ideas.

Finally, are you working on anything new at the moment? Are there any upcoming projects you’d like to plug?

Just a first collection which should appear sometime in the next few decades! 

We’ll be over here waitingas patiently as possible!

For more from Annie, check out her pamphlet Woundsong, or read more about her on her author page here!

Annie's Socials

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In Conversation with Helen Calcutt

This month, we’re talking to Helen Calcutt, author of VPP pamphlet Somehow and editor of Eighty Four our anthology dealing with the epidemic of male suicide. She talked to us about the painful and cathartic experience of working on these projects, as well as her more recent work using her dance expertise to put poetry into motion…

Hello, Helen! As always, we start with a catch-up: how are you doing? What have you been up to?

I’m really well! I’ve been working on a full-length collection, which I actually finalised maybe two weeks ago? Things feel very exciting there, and I’m eager to divulge more, but I can’t right now. All I know is that it feels like a very strong piece of work. The poems are very different to those in Somehow – both in tone and content. But it’s all part and parcel of the creative, evolutionary process. It’s exhilarating.

The most tantalizing possible beginning to an interview, we can’t wait to hear more! For now we’ll focus on what you can talk about…

It’s been a year since your beautiful pamphlet Somehow was published. Could you tell us a little bit about what it meant to you then and what it means to you now?

‘Somehow’ is probably one of my proudest achievements as a writer. It just fell together so effortlessly. The poems poured through, and Stuart was there to catch, and filter them through, for which I am eternally grateful. The whole process just stands out as an incredibly sacred time for me. The poems really resonate with people too; they always feel so fresh. Whenever I read from ‘Somehow’, everyone feels a little more in touch with themselves somehow (ha! No pun intended!) which is wonderful.

And the writing process itself? what was that like? Did you end up writing the pamphlet you set out to write?

I didn’t set out to write a pamphlet at all, actually. I set out to write a collection. I was going to call it The last words I said were beautiful. But I quickly realised that, the subject matter being what it is, that a pamphlet would serve better. The loss of my brother has been explosive, raw, tragic, revealing, and a huge growth process. It felt (and still does feel) like a moment in time, suspended. Matt’s suicide isn’t something I want to drag across 60+ pages. It’s something I want to hold aloft: expose and absorb. Pamphlets help you do that. And Stuart helped me realise this was the way forward too.

Helen launched her pamphlet alongside Carrie Etter, Louise Fazackerly & Shazea Quraishi. You can watch the whole event on our YouTube Channel, including a Q&A with the poets!

That makes a lot of sense. You deal with a lot in this little space: incredibly difficult themes and emotions alongside tender, (painful?) hope. What are your thoughts on that balance? Did you have readers in mind as you wrote?

The reader in my mind was me, because I wrote them for a part of the self that often gets neglected when you suffer trauma. However, during the editing/ordering process I started thinking about ‘the reader’ a lot. I asked friends and family members lot of questions, and everyone more or less said the same thing – that they wanted to hear the truth. They want it raw and real, because ultimately, people want and need to truly feel into their pain.

‘Everything will be okay’ is such a well-worn phrase. And while this is true, actually – things do lift, perhaps even more so than before,  it’s very important to start owning what hurts you. By this, I don’t mean drag it around like a ball and chain, I mean own it. With confidence, with feeling, with truth. I’m not sure I fully ‘owned’ Matt’s death in Somehow, but I’m definitely on my way.

As readers, we’re both moved and honoured by that truthfulness and the vulnerability it brings – hopefully it brings a sense of freedom too.

Speaking of balance, there’s a lot of nature imagery in Somehow, from sunlight to rain to snow… why do you think that is?

I’ve always turned to the natural/elemental world, in all of my work, quite simply because I find it so inspiring. It’s a gateway back to the self. What exists without is within. And you only have to observe the stillness of a leaf, and then be aware of how you’re observing it, to tap into your own being and what’s working away in there. The natural world is not separate from us – we are it. It is us. I use it so much in my work, because essentially, I write about what it is to be human, and a river is as much a part of my humanness as anything else.

As well ‘Somehow’ you’ve also worked with Verve Poetry Press as editor of Eighty Four an anthology of poems about male suicide; what was that like?

Putting Eighty Four together was hard in the sense that I encouraged people to be vulnerable for the sake of their art. I had to reject some poems, which I struggled with initially. But I can see now it’s all a part of an important, collective process, with so many poems reaching us – all of them hurting, all of them brave and beautiful.  Everyone who submitted, whether they ended up in the anthology or not, were part of this wonderful movement for change: and it’s still reverberating. There’s more to come from that, I think. What form this will take, I don’t know, but I have a feeling. You can’t create something that inclusive, impactful, and qualitative, and it not last and last.

We heartily agree.

Finally, you’ve already mentioned an upcoming collection – is there anything else going on at the moment you can tell us about?

I’m doing a lot of research into translation at the moment – how we take written and/or verbalised language, and translate it into the body through dance. I see a lot of dance and poetry happening at the same time, side by side, but this isn’t translation. It can be impactful yes. But it doesn’t get to the root of why poetry and dance are so cohesive. When I write a poem, and when I dance, I get the same feeling. The same parts of my brain and body fire up. So, I know there’s a deep connection. One I want to expose fully.

That sounds amazing!

Poetry in motion: Helen combines dance and poetry in her work above.

I’m working with Max Porter’s ‘Grief is the thing with feathers’ as part of my research here, supported by Arts Council England, the DanceXchange, and the University of Worcester. What’s exciting, is that the professional dancers I’ve been working with (Sara MacQueen, Shelley Eva Haden, Francis Hickman, and Claire Lambert) all absolutely love the process.

As dancers, we haven’t created or explored anything like it before. The movement is generated from a very particular space, meaning the movement itself can be very particular. But it’s also about the dancer’s subjective relationship to the text and to it’s meaning, and how we explore and translate that, as well as the words and phrases themselves, that I find fascinating. It’s such a deep dive, and because of it, the movement is utterly unique. Bonkers at times, breath-taking at others

 I’m looking towards the next stage of the project now, with the long-term aim of staging a full dance production of the text. It’s already been adapted for theatre – so I know it works in this setting. I just want to take it to the next level. Tap in the movement of all that subjective, compound grief – and let it fly.

We cannot wait to see where it goes! Thank you so much for talking to us!

For more from Helen, check out her pamphlet Somehow, the anthology she edited Eighty Four or read more about her on her author page here!

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Jo Morris Dixon

Jo Morris Dixon grew up in Birmingham and now lives in London. She has worked in museums and currently works for a mental health charity. Her poetry has been published in Oxford Poetry and The Poetry Review. She was longlisted for the 2015 Plough Poetry Prize and the 2020 National Poetry Competition. I told you everything is her debut pamphlet.

I TOLD YOU EVERYTHING

Jo Morris Dixon’s debut pamphlet I told you everything reveals how poetry can function as a holding place for difficult experiences and emotions. Through language at once vivid and straightforward, Dixon skilfully addresses coming-of-age themes which are often left unexplored, even in therapy rooms. There is a keen attentiveness to form in these startling poems, ranging from the sonnet to the Golden Shovel. Urgent, complex and searingly honest, I told you everything is a fierce addition to poetry and queer writing in the UK.

SAMPLE POEM

Girl Guides 

we met on a Girl Guides trip (she texted first)
which caused me to check my phone
in French class at school, a different school
to the one she was at which had a pool
but wasn’t private she told me
to focus on the sound of leaves
crunching under my shoes whenever
I felt sad and that the dress code for
her fourteenth birthday party was red
which meant I expected her to invite me
so when she posted photos of herself
and her friends with Smirnoff Ice on MySpace
that night I hid my red turtleneck jumper
down the side of my bed and dreamt
about her saying sorry and kissing me
in a way which made me wake up
shocked to see that she had texted to say
my friend told me you like me, is it true?

'Artfully off-kilter, angular and perhaps even uncomfortable in moments, these poems find a rare clarity in the examination of difficult times. The therapist's gesture, a bully's graffiti, a phone call to a helpline all become the genesis of crystalline and precise poems in the hands of Jo Morris Dixon. But there us protest here too. I told you everything is both resolutely and complexly queer.'
Richard Scott

More from Jo!

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Golnoosh Nour

Composing ROCKSONG was a truly wild ride, at times a painful one, but mostly ecstatic & inspired. Sometimes I still don’t understand how I wrote these poems, I just know I wouldn’t exchange this transcendent experience for anything else!’

Dr Golnoosh Nour is the author of The Ministry of Guidance and Other Stories (Muswell Press, 2020). Her full-length poetry collection Rocksong will be published in October 2021 by Verve Poetry Press. Golnoosh’s work has also been published in Granta and Poetry Anthology amongst others, and she has performed in numerous literary events, including Stoke Newington Literature Festival, the Poetry Café, and RVT. Golnoosh is a visiting lecturer at the University of Bedfordshire. She’s currently co-editing the issue 80 of Magma and the anthology Queer Life, Queer Love forthcoming from Muswell Press.

ROCKSONG

 ‘Our house has been vandalised again they have destroyed our bedroom our bed while we were away falling more deeply inimpermissible love.’ – from ‘A Manifesto – The Future is Queer

Fresh, queer, brave, profound, the poems in this collection from London based Iranian Golnoosh do not disappoint. Her stories are wonderful – her poetry is breath-taking!

'So tough, ferocious even, so beautiful, as insinuating in their radiance as they are translucently blunt, Golnoosh Nour’s poems, with a steely mindfulness and whiplash denouements that gut the heart, are a great and vital treasure'
Dennis Cooper

SAMPLE POEM

In Your Arms I Am A Boy

A sparrow, trapped and warmed in your hands,
a nightingale singing the songs of misery and victory,
a boy who competes with other boys to win at pool, at fights, at life.
A boy who murmurs in your ears that you are an empress for whom
he is ready to murder everyone else.

A jealous boy, a delicate boy, a delicious boy.
An inebriated boy, a pauper, a landless poet, a nomad who
has been accused of being a solipsistic prince.
A socialist boy, a sociable boy, an isolated boy, an island in love
with the ocean that is drowning it.

A brown boy, daggered by injustice,
an attacked prince like Siyavash, dragged
to walk through flames to prove his innocence.
As I storm through the fire, you hold my hands
like a bouquet of blossoming roses.

You are right, my empress, I am nothing but a wounded prince:
stabbed in the back and front by all my friends and
none of my enemies, bleeding on your cold marble, and you,
mesmerised by my golden blood,
will betray the world to save your boy.

'ROCKSONG is a shamelessly baroque ride through the nadirs and summits of the contemporary queer. It's a decadent book, where decadence isn't a cipher for self-indulgence, but a fierce and fugitive resistance. These poems flirt and confront in turns, they seduce and attack, they are tender and grotesque. They create a strangely exultant burlesque on identity, sexuality, desire and language. I love them for that.'
Fran Lock

The Ministry of Guidance and Other Stories

Nuanced and powerful, Nour’s collection of stories explores love and cruelty, sex and religion, and being confined by the rules of an uncompromising culture.

Set mostly in Iran, but making forays to London, Germany, and the transit area of a Ukrainian airport, the stories are brilliantly deft in summoning up the dilemmas of their protagonists, be they characters who are kicking against the confines of the society into which they are born, or characters wanting to embrace those confines.

'A strong, original voice with unprecedented stories to tell'
Marina Warner

Golnoosh reads at ‘Silent Roar: a renegade reading with 7 poets’ for the 87 Press.

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Zoë Brigley

There’s a quotation in Into Eros that says: “Women’s madness is an intelligible response to unlivable conditions in which other modes of response are blocked off.” I think most of the “madwomen” in history were probably forced to extremes by unlivable conditions, but I hope for my work to be the voice for other women that I never had.
The voice that says: This is not your fault and You can find joy.  

Zoë Brigley has three collections of poetry from Bloodaxe: The Secret, Conquest, and Hand & Skull, and all three are Poetry Book Society Recommendations, as well as receiving an Eric Gregory Award, being Forward Prize commended, and listed for the Dylan Thomas Prize. She also has a collection of nonfiction: Notes from a Swing State: Writing from Wales and America (Parthian). She is Assistant Professor in the English department at the Ohio State University. She runs an anti-violence advocacy podcast: Sinister Myth: How Stories We Tell Perpetuate Violence.

INTO EROS

The poems in Into Erosconsider the dangers for women in risking desire, and they tell a story about nature, trauma, and healing. Here, pumpkin flowers, poison sumac, and apple blossoms are as much persons as women are, and their experience are parallel but different. These poems register the value of love after violence. Not possessing or dominating but dwelling with people, with nature – this at last might lead to freedom, and joy. 

SAMPLE POEM

The Pumpkin Flowers Take Pleasure Too

At dawn, pumpkin flowers loosen themselves
for the rain. Male buds in bloom for weeks give
way to females flowering. Incandescent,
vivid orange, petals open: submissive
like a wild creature folding back its ears:
the stigma like a nipple. But a teacher
once told me that humans are “the only
species that evolved to make sex a pleasure
for females.” Still the pumpkin flowers stand
engorged without shame or fear & what feeling
when the bee completes its dusty circuit,
brush of fur from its tight, hard body? Now
flowers are shutting slowly, delicately: a woman
crossing her legs: lips closing after a kiss.

'Brigley bravely confronts what it is to be a woman in a world that sees women as prey'
Maggie Smith
author of Goldenrod & Good Bones

HAND & SKULL

Zoë Brigley’s third collection Hand & Skull (Bloodaxe Books, 2019) draws on early memories of the Welsh landscape and the harshness of rural life as well as on her later immersion in the American landscape and her perception of a sense of hollowness in particular communities there. Other strands include the horror of violence, especially violence towards women, contrasted with poems which offer comfort by working as beatitudes or commentaries on life as it exists now, seeking a way of being that is more beautiful, often in relation to her children.

'Brigley gathers up all the fragments of what it is to be a woman and weaves them together in this stunning collection which cuts and heals in equal measure.'
Laura May Webb
Wales Arts Review

PREVIOUS PUBLICATIONS

Aubade After A French Movie (Broken Sleep Books, 2020)
Notes From a Swing State (Parthian Books, 2019)
Conquest (Bloodaxe, 2012)
The Secret (Bloodaxe, 2007)
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Phoebe Stuckes

Phoebe Stuckes is a writer from West Somerset now living in London. She has been a winner of the Foyle Young Poets award four times and is a former Barbican Young Poet. Her writing has appeared in Poetry Review, The Rialto, The North and Ambit among others. Her debut pamphlet, Gin & Tonic was shortlisted for The Michael Marks Award 2017. She has been awarded an Eric Gregory Award and The Geoffrey Dearmer Prize.  Her first full length collection, Platinum Blonde will be published by Bloodaxe Books in 2020. 

THE ONE GIRL GREMLIN

Her first pamphlet since her debut full collection  Platinum Blonde sees Phoebe Stuckes’ trademark poems of high humour and hubris take on a dreamier, more abstract, quality.

Perhaps the ’wise-cracking party girl’ of her earlier work is sensing that, for a while at least, the party is postponed. There isn’t much worth staying up late for any more in these poems. Instead, our character lies awake in bed long into the night or wakes up into a pre-dawn world they barely recognise. And the strange new rural setting they wake to is inviting and also threatening and therefore not to be trusted. 

Phoebe Stuckes remains one of the most exciting horrifying hilarious unsettling poets writing today. The One Girl Gremlin is of course an absolute triumph! 

SAMPLE POEM

Holes 

The truth feels repetitive like if you were to fall down a hole in the street and hurt yourself, once, perhaps they’d say that’s terrible, I’m so sorry you fell down the hole in the street, well done for getting out. But it keeps on happening to you. Pretty soon, your friends are talking at parties, saying things like; she’s always falling down holes, she walks home alone, at night, on the bad roads, she’s just really into unstable ground. None of the holes I fell down were my boyfriends. One of them was someone else’s boyfriend. If you were feeling cruel, you could say I brought it on myself. The hole’s real girl-friend put on a white dress and married him, even though I told her everything. I try and warn people about the holes, I try and know where they are at various events, holes ordering pints at the poetry reading, holes as your friends other friend, your lecturer, the hole, working on the role of the void in work by another hole. No one seems to listen. Sometimes they say we’re not all holes in the ground you know. Or you probably asked for it, you must love falling down holes. Why else would you stay? Didn’t you tell the hole you loved it there even though you were scratching at the walls. I don’t know what to tell you except maybe the holes aren’t part of the street. Maybe they’re stacked on top of each otherand when I hit rock bottom in this one, the next one is waiting to fall through.

'Stuckes deftly balances violence and wit, self-consciousness and panache. She can turn a sentence on a dime: Get yourself a bottle of gin, some photos of your exes, and settle into a velvet chaise longue to read’
Kim Addonizio

PLATINUM BLONDE

Platinum Blonde is Phoebe Stuckes’ debut collection. Whether wildly or wryly funny, each poem presents an episode in the up-and-down life of the wise-cracking party girl.

On the surface, this is a world of dancefloors and bathrooms, glitter and girls, love and disappointment, but beneath the laughter and antics these are self-questioning poems. Poems about self-belief, self-image, vulnerability and insecurity, loneliness, trauma and survival.

'In Platinum Blonde, there is a relentless accuracy at work. The reader can’t anticipate this landscape: it ‘could be glamourous’ or ‘bad nights and bad love’ or both.'
Elisabeth Sennitt Clough
The North

Phoebe launches her debut collection, Platinum Blonde.

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