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In Conversation with Marina Sánchez

Three months on from the publication of her gorgeous pamphlet Mexica Mix, we tracked down the elusive Marina Sánchez to talk to us about her work, the culture and stories behind it and all the reading that goes into putting together a pamphlet like hers. Spoiler: it’s a lot…

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

Mexica Mix and its launch are like a harvest, the culmination of years of rewriting, selecting and sending off poems in the hope of finding them a good home. (And the inevitable rejections from the wrong homes). There’s a fullness also in that my work is reaching a greater audience and that is very rewarding. I have already had two lovely reviews from two poets who attended the launch, Maggie Mackay in Sphinx and another by Brian Docherty in London Grip.

But creatively I am no longer in the space that birthed the poems in Mexica Mix and paradox being a constant in poetry, it is also a time of great emptiness in that I can go for stretches without the impulse of an idea, an image or a feeling. But I remain receptive and, in the meantime, I nourish my imagination reading voraciously.

We always love to hear that! What’s on your list at the moment?

I am re-reading Jane Hirschfield’s How Great Poems Transform the World, a joy, as she is so generous with her knowledge about craft, art and being human. It is a follow up to Nine Gates, both of which are essential reading. I love travelling with the much-missed Evan Boland’s The Historians, a powerful volume of craft and heart. I also keep going back to Mimi Khalvati’s superb sonnets in Afterwardness as they do my heart good. More recent works are Cheryl Moskowitz’s mysterious and haunting Maternal Impression and Maggie Butt’s new collection everlove.

A Peek at Marina's Bookshelf

As a Mexica indigenous person, I also find great strength and beauty in Layli Long Soldier’s Whereas and Natalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Love Poem. Just as this is looking like I only read women, I have also enjoyed Inua Ellam’s The Actual for its audacious forms and its vivid experiences of authentic masculinity. W. S Merwin is one of my favourite teachers and I recently discovered Unchopping a Tree. I also recently came across Alicia Suskin Ostriker and I am really enjoying The Volcano. I am reading Kei Miller’s essays, Things I have Withheld as I love his poetry and voice. I can’t wait to dive in Jen Hadfield’s Stone Age, because when I saw her read some years ago, her voice and poems really stayed with me.

Apart from that, if life allows, editing and sending out poems continues ‘religiously’, as Rebecca Goss advised me to do years ago.

Sound advice, as always. Shall we talk a little bit about your pamphlet Mexica Mix? What did it mean to you?

Mexica Mix has been such a long, rich and freeing process, in terms of the research as well as consciously and fully honouring and understanding my identity. As a Mexica woman reclaiming her ancestors, it felt in some ways both an individual and a collective journey.

Though there are still many questions about one side of my family, I needed to own my indigenous heritage in a way that was not possible earlier as there was a lot of shame and secrecy. I have also enjoyed consciously subverting old stereotypes and tropes I grew up with. Along the way, I have also benefitted from some wonderful teachers, some alive, some not, like Francisco X Alarcón and Gloria Anzaldúa.

You’ve mentioned process – could you tell us a little more about how you go about writing your work?

I agree with ‘writing as an act of self-preservation’ as the imagination can provide solace for living in uncertainty, chaos, bewilderment and the unknowable. But it has felt a lot harder since March 2020 because the prevailing fear, anxiety and information can be overwhelming. But writing is also an act of affirming our human experience. I try to write daily though it is not always possible. I’m not like Lorca in that I do not hunt for poems. Instead, I prefer to wait.

I carry a note book with me to jot ideas and images and I have another one by my bed for ideas or lines that don’t let me sleep until I write them down. I find the energy of something coming through very exciting and visceral and I tend to consciously focus on it until I can’t hold it anymore and there’s an outpouring in my bigger writing notebook. I usually edit poems for months or years unless there’s a rare grace event when something comes almost finished. 

 

What are the languages in Mexica Mix and why was it important to you to make this a multi-lingual pamphlet?

I have a great sense of loss that I do not speak Nahuatl and I am also interested in the history, power dynamics, wisdom and traditions of the different languages I was born into and have learnt to live in and how they interact with each other. So, it was essential for me to explore them in Mexica Mix. While there has been a growing and welcome awareness, recognition and acceptance of different identities, voices and experiences from different communities, there’s still more to be achieved.

Dragon Child (Acumen Poetry, 2014) was Marina's previous pamphlet

We know you work as a translator as well as a poet – what are the similarities and differences in translating a poem vs composing one?

As a bilingual person, I have enjoyed translating into English or into Spanish since my teens. When my own poems are not coming through, it is a great training in how to convey and refine what an author has written as well as a thrilling challenge to express the feeling tone of a piece. I recently translated the Mexican poet Rosario Castellanos whose work I admire but I discovered afterwards that it is difficult to obtain copyright, so I have had to shelve them for a few years.

Ah, a shame! We wait patiently for when they can see the light of day. Is there any work you’re doing which you can share with us now?

I am thrilled to have not one but two poems accepted recently in the forthcoming anthology Where We Find Ourselves by Arachne Press. I am also sending out a pamphlet that I finished during the first lockdown about my mother’s passing seven years ago. It is a rich and surprising sequence with a Tibetan Buddhist and Nahuatl flavour. I am also still editing a long poem about La Llorona, the final female symbol of the trilogy of Our Lady of Guadalupe and Malintzin Tenépal (Malinalli).

With every pamphlet there’s the question of a first collection-

Yes? 👀

 -but it’s such huge task and then the creativity seduces me and I don’t stay with it. Publishers reading the above, please get in touch.

ah, fair enough…

Finally, I’d love to read at or attend a live poetry reading and hug all the writing friends I’ve missed since spring 2020, can’t wait!

Amen! We hope to see you at an in-person event soon! All the best with your current projects and a huge thank you for taking the time to talk with us!

For more from Marina, check out her pamphlet Mexica Mix or read more about her on her author page here!

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In Conversation with Charlotte Lunn and Sophie Sparham

In an exciting turn of events, we’ve managed to pin down not one but TWO of our amazing Verve Poetry Press poets, Charlotte Lunn and Sophie Sparham to chat to us about their newly published collections Metamorphosis and The Man Who Ate 50,000 Weetabix. Read below for their thoughts on pandemic publishing, getting personal and why they might be spontaneously breaking into dance somwhere near you…

First things first: congratulations to you both on the publication of your collections! How are you feeling?

C: It’s crazy. Bizarre. I’m still processing the fact that there’s an actual physical book that I created out in the world. I can’t get my head around it. How are you feeling, Soph?

S: Yeah, it’s alright innit? I’m pretty level-headed about these things but it’s wicked. Part of me is already saying okay, that’s done now.

You’ve already compartmentalised it?!

C: You’re just completely chill and I’m like an excited fangirl.

Is this because yours is a debut while Sophie’s is a second collection?

S: Oh, I feel like this is my first coherent collection, my first collection that makes sense. I was very young when I published my actual first collection. I was very angry… I feel like this collection is a lot more mature and just a lot more well thought-through compared to baby Sophie’s debut.

C: Aw, I loved your first one though! I thought it was ace!

S: It’s got its place, it’s got its place! But I’m a lot happier with this collection. Maybe it’s a time thing. It’s been a long while since that first book was published. Maybe in another year I’ll look at this on and think oh god! too 😂

How long has it already been for this one? When did the two of you write the poems that went into these collections?

C: I’ve probably been writing these poems for a few years now. Some of them were even written back when I was at Uni from 2011 to 2014 so it’s been a long time coming for me.

S: All my poems for this have been written in the last two years. There are some very recent. The title poem, I think was written two weeks before it was due. I knew I wanted to write that poem and I wrote and deleted and rewrote it so many times because I couldn’t quite say what I wanted to say. It was actually the last poem I wrote of the collection, I think.

C: That’s so interesting you should say that! I really struggled with my title poem as well; it went through so many revisions, and even now I still don’t know if it’s where I want it to be, but I’ve just had to let it go.

S: I think you get to a point where you have to think: I could edit this forever. You either have it as is or remove it—but I guess that’s hard to do with a title poem…

What has it felt like publishing a book without all the accompanying live launch and gigs?

S: I think Lottie’s publication date was very different to mine. She actually made a thing about it whereas I just painted my ceiling.

C: I loved that, it was just so Sophie.

S: It was the ceiling in my library so I feel like it was sort of relevant.

Oh, absolutely. Whereas Charlotte, I think I spotted you in a party hat on Twitter…?

C: Oh, that was such a nice day, because I thought I was just going to casually sign books with people at work, but it turned out my Scarthin family had put together this little surprise celebration for me. They got fizz and cake and flowers and I was like, don’t make me cry! It was nice to do something normal-ish after a very long time of having none of that.

S: It is really odd releasing a book at this time because normally, you think I’m going to release it on that date, yep, then I’ll read at that night, and a feature at that one but this time… the book comes out and you think okay, what do I do? I keep forgetting that it’s real!

C: I know, I know! I’m the same!

The infamous party hat and flowers. Cake and fizz not pictured.

Speaking of gigs: you’re both brilliant performers, and there is so much of that which comes across when you read the collections. Do you write differently for the page vs performance?

S: I personally think – and people might disagree with me – that a poem should work as well in performance as it does on the page. I mean, they are different mediums. When you’re writing for the page you know the person will have more time with the text plus all the added tools of shape and form which can add so much meaning but… I also just love watching people read and perform their poetry. There’s something so special about it.

C: Stuart actually brought this up in our last meeting; he asked me, do you consider yourself a page poet or a performance poet? 

When I was back at uni I would have said hands down I was a page poet, and my lecturers were always telling me that my poetry was too obscure and I needed to consider my audience… it was only when I started performing my work in 2018 that it opened me up to a new way of seeing and writing my work. It sort of unconsciously influenced my work, and I think my rhythm got better from that point on and my work became more accessible. I’d probably say both are really important,  and now when I write work I don’t set the aim to write a page poem or a performance poem it just flows as it is with a bit of both.

Helen Mort, in her forward for Sophie’s collection, writes that her poems ‘speak in their own accent’. I feel like that’s true for both of you.

C: Whenever I read Sophie’s poetry, I always read it in Sophie’s voice. I love it.

S: The book is very Derbyshire and that’s exactly what I wanted. The voices of the people I was writing, I wanted them to be Derbyshire. I actually went to go meet the guy who wrote the Derbyshire Dictionary, very early on in the writing process. We’d talked over email but I think he got a shock when he opened his door to see me. Probably thought who is this ragtag woman? Once we got chatting he was dead nice but I do remember him saying are you a poet? I’ve not heard of you.

C: Cheers, mate. 😂

S: Nothing like it to keep your ego in check.

There are a lot of things about your books that feel like they have some synergy – have you read each other’s collections yet?

C: Not yet!

S: We’re swapping books tomorrow! But we know each other’s work and I’d agree. I’ve seen Charlotte perform many times (every time wonderful, Charlotte) and I can say there’s definitely some crossover. We both discuss mental health issues and we both come under the beautiful LGBT+ spectrum. We’re both very people-focussed.

I read them back to back and spotted that there’s a poem in Metamorphosis called Upbringing and a poem in 50,000 Weetabix called Down Bringing, so there’s defnitely something going on there.

S: That’s so weird!

C: Really weird! That’s magic. Poetry magic.

One thought I had while reading was that the masks in Metamorphosis and the characters in 50,000 Weetabix worked in a similar way. Would you agree?

C: I had to have a long hard think about this one. My collection is so much about my own personal journey with mental health and abuse. I think when I was younger, I did have to almost wear a mask and supress a lot of who I was in order to survive but I think as the poetry collection progresses, the mask starts to lift. The true selves and the anger comes out and the voice gets stronger.

S: For me, a lot of what I wanted to look at was what’s expected of us as people in small towns and villages, what we’re meant to do and how we’re meant to live versus what our actual dreams and desires are. I wanted to talk about the expectations of masculinity – the expectations of anything – and that’s where the mask thing comes into it for me. People have their societal self and their true self and they show different aspects of themselves in different relationships; that’s something that really interests me.

Helen wrote in her forward for you that youlet people and places be themselves instead of using them in the service of art’.

S: Well, there are a lot of people I write about in the collection that I know. They’re people I’ve seen and interacted with. You want to write about people compassionately and with empathy. You don’t want to turn them into characitures. I really don’t want to say this person is good, this person is bad I just want to show what I’ve seen without putting prejudgments on anyone.

You’ve already touched on this a little, Charlotte, but can you tell us a little more about how you navigate the boundaries of personal and public when you put so much of yourself and your experiences into your work?

C: That’s a good question. My work has always been personal, just because I found it so cathartic to write about my own experiences. In terms of the boundary between he public and the private, I don’t think I share anything I don’t want to but at the same time I do try to push that boundary. I talk about things like abuse and mental health and I am really keen to break the stigma around those subjects, and I know the only way I can do that is by talking about my own experiences.

S: My response to that question is: some of it’s my truth, some it’s other people’s truth and you’ll never know which one’s which.

Do you ever have people get overfamiliar with you because they feel they know you through your work?

S: You get people crying and hugging you – my first collection especially connected with a lot of people – but that’s all part of the territory 😅

C: It’s your duty as a poet to give out those free hugs! If you devastate them, you have to make up for it. I’d say, I’ve definitely connected with a lot of people because of my work. I wouldn’t say anybody’s ever gotten too overly familiar but then I’m probably the one being weird and overly friendly, anyway.

That feels like a normal side effect of the atmosphere at poetry nights: Strangers one minute and sobbing in each other’s arms the next.

C: Absolutely.

Sophie signing copies of her book in her local indie bookshop, Bearded Badger Books

That brings us pretty nicely to our next question. Both of you thank your poetry community in the acknowledgments of your collections. Can you say a bit more about the role they’ve had in your work and your life?

S: I mean, poetry community is everything, you know? I don’t think I’d have got to half the places I have without it. It makes such a difference to have someone to share work with, and just to have friends who read poems is amazing. To be able to go to different nights and know that even if you turn up alone, you’ll always find someone to wlecome you in and talk to you… it’s a really beautiful thing. Writing is a very solitary task, so I think it makes a real difference to have a community around you.

C: Absolutely. I totally agree with Sophie. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the poetry community. That’s really where everything started for me,  after uni. I was attending poetry nights for ages before I actually gained the courage to perform but I always got the vibe that everyone was really friendly and really supportive and eventually that made me feel like I could share my work as well. It’s like Sophie says, you can always go to a poetry night on your own and find someone there that’ll be nice and have a chat with you and it’s just really uplifting and it truly helps people grow. I would say I’ve made some lifelong friends from the poetry community, this one being one of them!

S: Thank you, thank you. And the thing about poetry and writing in general which I think is so good is that everyone comes from a different background, culture, wherever it doesn’t matter. The mixes of people that come to poetry nights is beautiful and you meet people that you would maybe never come across or socialise with in any other situation. Which, I mean… that’s got to be good, ent it?

It’s great. We see it at the festival every year.

C: I’m dying to get to one!

S: They are very good.

C: Do you want to come with me next year? 👀

S: Yes! Poetry trip!

Dance break, caught on camera

We will see you then! In the meantime, what will you be up to? Anything coming up you’d like to plug?

C: [Dance break]

Yes! Our double book launch extravaganza is coming up!!

No, really?!

C: It’s going to be a poetry party, I’m getting ready for it now.

S: She’s hyped! And I will be hyped too, closer to the time.

C: I feel like Sophie’s dancing too, on the inside, she’s just trying to keep her composure.

S: Absolutely.

C: I’ve got a few other things coming up too but I’m not sure I can say anything yet.

S: Me too. I’ve got a dentist appointment coming up, that’s pretty much all I can talk about.

Fantastically cryptic, thank you.

A huge thank you to both Charlotte and Sophie for taking the time to sit and chat with us. Tickets are live for their launch event on the 28th of May and of course, their collections Metamorphosis and The Man Who Ate 50,000 Weetabix are available to buy from our bookshop.

Charlotte’s Socials

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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 .