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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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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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Twenty-one books in 2021? All the lastest news from Verve Poetry Press…

WHAT A YEAR…

2020 was a strange year for everyone, and as a press that thrives on live events, we were definitely faced with some challenges. Still, with seven collectionsseven pamphlets and two anthologies published, a four-in-one zoom launch event under our belt and a submissions window that’s leading us into a bumper year of scheduled releases… it hasn’t been all terrible.

This year more than ever, people have been turning to poetry for comfort and connection. As always, we’re honoured by everyone who chooses to read from our library of work (which we’re trying our best to keep accessible during lockdown—read below!) and we’re looking forward to continuing to publish the vibrant and vital poetry we all need heading into 2021.

SUBMISSIONS

We were absolutely blown away by the results of our first-ever open submissions window in 2020, during which we were sent just over five hundred manuscripts from far and wide. After a long deliberation process (read: many, many cups of tea) we managed the extremely difficult task of choosing the collections and pamphlets which make up our 2021 publishing schedule. Scroll down to read about the first of these publications, out today(!) and to find out how you can submit your work to VPP this year.
JAMIE HALE – SHIELD
                           “…remember
tidal volume is estimated based on
what’s left in the lung as it closes
remember love is based on tides
as they come in closer remember
to bring your own ventilator
remember if they’re overwhelmed
they’ll save anyone before you.”
Our first release of 2021 is Jamie Hale’s Shielda pamphlet of sonnets written at height of the COVID-19 pandemic, during which Jamie was told that, because of their underlying condition, they wouldn’t be a priority for critical care treatment.
This work became Jamie’s first poetry publication, which follows them through the grief of facing death while newly married, and into a place of resilience, resistance, and a commitment to creation against mortality. Order Shield now
Jamie Hale is a poet and essayist based in South-East London. Their solo show, NOT DYING, has been performed at the Lyric Theatre in Hammersmith and at the Barbican Centre, while they have had poetry published in Magma, Rialto, and Poetry Quarterly. They have performed poetry at venues including Rich Mix, the Science Gallery, the South Bank Centre, the Saboteur Awards, and the Tate Modern.

They write for the Wellcome Trust on disability arts, and are a researcher and contributor for a Netflix show. In 2018 they won one of the London Writers’ Awards for Poetry, and in 2019 they were shortlisted for the Jerwood Fellowships.
 

HEAR JAMIE READ

Jamie is launching Shield with an online Zoom event on January 23rd, where you can hear them read from the pamphlet as well as talking about the role of the outsider in poetry alongside CN LesterRegistration is free but you can pay £10, £15 or £20 to also get a signed copy of the book, with all profits going to charities focusing on the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on BAME people / POC and disabled people.

You can also catch a screening of Jamie’s show 
‘NOT DYING’ at Kendal Poetry Festival on 22nd February, which will be followed by a live Q&A.
 

 ACE FUNDING

 2021 marks the first year of Verve Poetry Press being supported by Arts Council England, which means more hands on deck, more running around behind the scenes and, most importantly, more brilliant books. We’re absolutely thrilled to get this funding and keen as keen to see where it can take us going forward. Speaking of…

IN STORE FOR 2021

2021sm

Thanks to our submissions window in 2020, we’ve got a HUGE line-up of publications coming up, with no fewer than twenty-one (twenty-one!) books set to hit shelves before the end of this year. Collections from Asma ElbadawiRushika WickSean Wai Keung & Elaine Beckett as well as pamphlets from Hannah Hodgson and Natalie Whittaker are already available for pre-order on the VPP website, with plenty more on their way!

Going into our third full year as a press, we’re incredibly proud to have such a brilliant and diverse roster of styles, genres and poets in our ranks. From the most dynamic accompaniments to performance poetry, to capital P Page collections, and all the wonderful words in between.

Head over to our website to read the full(ish) line-up!

FREE P&P IN LOCKDOWN

Because we know you’re not able to go out to bookshops right now, we’re offering free postage and packaging on all our 2020 and 2021 titles for the duration of this lockdown. We hope it makes it easier for our readers to get their hands on books they love and for our poets to get the readership (and royalties) they deserve. If you need an instant fix, don’t forget that a whole bunch of our publications are also available as ebooks!

OUR POETS, ELSEWHERE

We’re super proud to see VPP poet Rushika Wick featured in the Winter 2020 issue of Poetry Review, with her poem ‘Hair’, which you can read on the Poetry Society’s website. She’s one of four featured poets reading alongside editor Emily Berry at their online launch event on 28th January. Tickets are FREE but limited and available here.

Rushika’s debut collection Afterlife as Trash is coming out with us on April 21st and is available for preorder right now on our website.

MORE SUBMISSIONS!

Interested in joining the ranks of Verve Poetry Press poets? In March 2021 we’ll be opening our inboxes once again, this time for full collections only—which we’re defining as 60+ pages. As always, we’re eager to read and publish all sorts of poetry, and if you think we might be right for you, head over to our website to read more about what we’re looking for.

…and that’s your lot!

(for now)
Check back regularly for all the latest Verve news, updates and exclusive sneak peeks at upcoming books as well as loads of other bits and bobs or sign up to our mailing list  to have it all delivered, direct to your inbox every month. Until then, take care and poet safely!
-Verve Poetry Press
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About the Team

Publisher/ Editor – Stuart Bartholomew

Stuart Bartholomew is Director and Programmer of VERVE: a Birmingham Festival of poetry and spoken word, which returns for its fifth year in February 2022. He is also Publisher at and Co-Founder of Verve Poetry Press – an independent press that focusses on publishing poets from Birmingham and beyond who share the festival’s ethos. His programming and publishing vision is to celebrate the full breadth of quality poetic activity in Birmingham and the UK – whatever the style or source – in colourful and exciting ways.

Marketing Manager – Kibriya Mehrban

Kibriya Mehrban is a poet living and working in Birmingham. They graduated from the University of Birmingham in 2018 and have spent most of their time since working for various literature festivals and organisations, and also performing themselves. In 2019 they were were accepted onto the Hippodrome Young Poets and was part of their collaborative anthology ’30 Synonyms for Emerging’ (Verve Poetry Press, 2019). They’re currently enjoying being part of the team behind the Overhear app. 

Our Advisory Board – Cynthia Miller, Amerah Saleh, Roy McFarlane, Helen Calcutt

Our board members meet with us at least twice a year to help us evaluate our strategy going forwards, and review our current performance against the aims and promises we have been making.

They were selected due to their strong connections to our city and the festival, to their embodyment of the values which we stand for, and most importantly, for their honesty and likely contradictory view-points.

Cynthia Miller is a Malaysian-American innovation consultant, poet and festival producer living in Edinburgh. She is one of the co-Founders of the Verve Poetry Festival and a former Trustee of the Forward Arts Foundation. Her poems have appeared in Ambit, Rialto, Butchers Dog, and harana poetry, among others, and a pamphlet length collection of her work appeared in 

Primers Volume 2 (Nine Arches Press, 2018) edited by Jane Commane and Jacob Sam La Rose. She is currently working on her first full collection.

Amerah Saleh is an internationally acclaimed Muslim Yemeni poet born and raised in Birmingham, releasing her book I Am Not From Here (Verve Poetry Press, 2018) and closing the Commonwealth Games Ceremony from Goal Coast to Birmingham live to 1.4 billion people. Winner of Overall Youth Excellence Award 2015 and named Brum 30 Under 30 in 2018. She is the Co-Founder of Verve   

Poetry Press, Board Member of Birmingham’s only producing theatre: Birmingham Repertory Theatre and the UK’s Spoken Word organisation Apples & Snakes. Her passions include engaging young people in change that affects them, Italian food, writing poetry and shaking up organisations. 

Roy McFarlane is a poet and former community worker. He has held the role of the Birmingham Poet Laureate, been the Starbucks Poet in Residence and is currently the Birmingham & Midlands Institute Poet in Residence.

His debut collection was Beginning With Your Last Breath (Nine Arches Press 2016).  Roy’s second collection The Healing Next Time

(Nine Arches Press 2018) was nominated for the Ted Hughes award, longlisted for the Jhalak Prize, a Poetry Book Society recommendation and selected by the Guardian as one of the best poetry titles of 2018.

Helen Calcutt’s poetry and critical writing has appeared in the Guardian, the Huffington Post, the Brooklyn Review, Unbound, Poetry Scotland, Wild Court, Envoi, The London Magazine and others. Her debut pamphlet, Sudden Rainfall (Perdika, 2014) was a PBS Choice. Her debut collection, Unable Mother, was published by V.Press in 2018. She is the editor and creator of Anthology 

Eighty-Four (Verve Poetry Press, 2019) which was a Sabotage Best Anthology short-listed title, and a Poetry Wales Book of the Year, and raised money for CALM’s prevent male suicide campaign. Her latest work is the pamphlet Somehow (Verve Poetry Press, 2020) and her second full collection is currently in preparation.

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Verve Poetry Press 2021 Releases

 

Verve is beyond proud to announce that we will be publishing 21 new pamphlets and collections in 2021 from accomplished and new voices. No matter your taste in poetry, you are bound to find a new favourite.

See our list of releases below:

 

Continue reading Verve Poetry Press 2021 Releases

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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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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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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