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Verve Poetry Press Submissions Window: An Interview with Stuart Bartholomew

It’s that time of year again! Yes, VERVE Poetry Press are currently open for submissions until the end of May 2022. To make sure everyone’s on the same page (haha) we’re dusting of an interview with Verve founder and editor Stuart Bartholomew – updated with all the info you need this year.

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 May 2022: That’s midnight on Sunday 1st until midnight on Tuesday 31st. This time we’re looking for full collections AND pamphlets. We want complete manuscripts although we will consider high quality drafts that are almost there.

You can submit by emailing us at, 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?


When will successful manuscripts  be published?

Of the manuscripts we choose from this submissions window, some will be published in 2023 and more in 2024. We’re reducing the frequency of our submissions windows now, so the next opportunity to submit will be in Spring 2024!

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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In Conversation with Phoebe Stuckes

After being blown away by her reading at VERVE 2022, we had to reach out to brilliant VPP poet, Phoebe Stuckes. Read below for her thoughts on her party girl persona, writing during a pandemic why we just can’t log off of social media, even when it’s making us miserable…

Hello Phoebe! How are you doing? What have you been up to since we last heard from you? It was brilliant to hear you read at VERVE Poetry Festival in February!

Hi! I’m doing okay, not a great deal to report, just writing and working. I’m delighted that it’s Spring as the Winter makes me morose. Thanks! I had a great time performing at Verve and it was my first in-person reading in two years!

Lucky us! We’re honoured to have been your return to readings – hopefully the first of many!

Phoebe read the title poem from her pamphlet on the VERVE Stage in February

The One Girl Gremlin is your second pamphlet, and your first since your full-length collection Platinum Blonde. What is unique about this project compared to your previous writings?

I didn’t really set out to write a complete sequence. I just wanted something to do really, I wanted to write something and I’d been reading a lotof prose poems so I think that influenced the style of the poems. My friend Em Meller pointed out that Platinum Blonde is mainly about external events whereas in The One Girl Gremlin there’s a lot of dream sequences and contemplation; I think it’s definitely more dreamlike. 

My approach was the same in that I just try and write a lot of poems and then I usually understand the sequence only in retrospect, at the time of writing I’m too close to it. I have this problem where whenever I try and plan a piece of writing before I write it I always vere off in the other direction, so no I’ve never written anything that I set out to write!

We published Phoebe’s pamphlet The One Girl Gremlin in September, her first since her full length collection Platinum Blonde (Bloodaxe Books, 2020)

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

Very relateable! Speaking of things not going to plan… how was your experience of writing and releasing Gremlin affected by the pandemic?

I think it forced me to write outside of my usual themes because my usual subjects; nightlife, intimacy, etc. weren’t available to me anymore. Everything I would usually have done around the release was moved online, I also haven’t been doing many in-person readings even though they seem to be starting up again, so I haven’t had as many opportunities to put it in people’s hands as I would like.

There’s a lot of reference to being visibly online in these poems, as well as those that more broadly explore a sense of living performatively. Is that something you set out to interrogate with this pamphlet?

I suppose so; I’ve written a lot in my other poetry about femininity and the self being constructed. I think in Platinum Blonde there was a strong persona and in The One Girl Gremlin the persona slightly dropped because I didn’t feel like I had an audience anymore. I think people of my generation have a really high level of anxiety around being surveilled because so much of our life is online and will probably be there forever in some form or other.

I’m interested in that because I loathe it and still participate in it, partly out of a fear of missing out. During the last lockdown I was living alone and I wanted to tune out so badly but I was like if I log off it’ll be just me here and that’ll be horrible.
That’s an ambivalence a lot of people share, for sure.

There are a few of your poems that get shared a lot online – do you think there’s something about your poetry that’s particularly retweetable?

God I hope not! There’s really no telling what poems people will share around and which they’ll basically ignore so I try not to think about it too much. I like the attention obviously, and it’s a good way to reach new readers but I don’t think about it too much.

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

Nothing that isn’t top secret. I’m running a workshop on Ekphrastic poetry for The Poetry Business for a second time on the 25th of May, you can book tickets for that here:

Sounds amazing! Thanks so much for talking to us!

For more from Phoebe, check out her pamphlet The One Girl Gremlin, or read more about her on her author page here!

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VERVE Poetry Press: 2021 to 2022!

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Recent additions to our pantheon! Could you join them?

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

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In Conversation with Annie Fan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We’ll be over here waitingas patiently as possible!

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

Annie's Socials

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In Conversation with Helen Calcutt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We heartily agree.

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

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

That sounds amazing!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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In Conversation with Rushika Wick

This month, we caught up with Rushika Wick. After a stellar poetry year and the release of her collection Afterlife As Trash, she reflects on the how and why of her work as well as its brilliant reception…

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

I’ve been observing the lack of differentiation between the seasons with a sense of dystopian dread and countering this by swimming in open water, reading incredible books and hugging people I love inside as many different buildings as possible (we are privileged to have plenty of vaccines available here). One of the things I’ve developed since the series of lock-downs is a deeper appreciation of nature, another is awareness of the poetics of physical space.

Swimming is turning out to be a trend in the poets we’ve talked to this year – Shazea Quraishi talks about it in her interview too.

In terms of news, I’m excited to be an editor for a forthcoming project run by sunseekers poetry and Carnaval Press exploring the broad definitions of ‘Disease’follow us on Instagram for the submission period! I’ve also joined the assistant editorial team at Tentacular with a forthcoming issue on Technology (also submit!) Having grown up in a family of cosmologists, nanotechnologists and biologists, this is a dream come true. Asimov remains a favourite author and I’m enthralled by how Jorie Graham writes from the future perspective in her latest collection Runaway.

It’s amazing to hear that you’ve got so many exciting things going on! Speaking of enthralling collections, could you tell us a bit about your weird and wonderful creation Afterlife As Trash?

Afterlife As Trash (I now wish was lower case to be anti-power differential) is a political work exploring ways in which people’s freedoms and lives are constrained and bewitched by systemic controls. In particular, that of late capitalism and the patriarchy. The title alludes to the idea of deferred spiritual gratification being the norm and displaced by material pursuits or distractions.

It  invites consideration of the term “trash” which is meaningless as all things can be re-used, recycled in the way that all matter and energy is finite. Waste is arguably a capitalist construct and an extremely harmful one. I’m privileged to have had Fran Lock review the collection with the sharpest senses and wit in Culture Matters (online) magazine- she probably understands the work better than I do, so maybe read her review.

The book also explores our ecological stance as a species in a very between-the-cracks manner. Weeds or wild flowers of such ideas and of the need for a new relationship with nature push through.  Ana Seferovic (Verve release pending!) sent me a podcast (LARB) where a performance artist witch – ‘The Oracle Of LA’ – was interviewed. She views green Wicca as being political, as it provides a radical re-engagement with our natural environment via enchantment as a process. This is profound to me.

There are so many of these wonderful and complex ideas explored in the collection – our editor Stuart Bartholomew has said he was hooked from page one! Could you tell us about the first poem of the collection, ‘Diaries Of An Artist in Hiding’?

Diaries was written on the way to work listening to the radio covering the plight of zero hours contract workers during the pandemic, thinking about the struggles some of my artist friends were experiencing. Spending their time doing things they did not enjoy so that they could put food on the table.  I find my work as a paediatrician in the NHS very rewarding but at times I am saddened that I would not be supported (by society) to take time out to purely write. There is a false discourse for not valuing The Arts, denying their ethical, therapeutic and heuristic drives which is retrograde.

You won’t find any arguments from us there—we’re grateful for every opportunity we get to platform exciting, interesting and meaningful art but it’s rarely easy.

It sounds like that poem in particular was born from a combination of an idea that had been brewing for a while and an external jumpstart. Afterlife As Trash is such an eclectic collection, it would be interesting to know if your writing process reflects that.

The process is chaotic. I write without a plan, often during liminal times – falling asleep or in transit. Thankfully Bernadette Mayer endorses lucid dreaming for best writing.
Much is “found” – either from overheard snippets of conversation, thoughts on paintings or inspiration from other artists and human beings. The poems form like photographic negatives. The collection was pulled together as I realized I had written around the same questions and theme afterward.

a peek at Rushika's bookshelf

Bernadette Mayer
Anne Carson
Frank O'Hara
Charles Bukowski
Terrance Hayes
Sylvia Plath

I am influenced by everything around me, but some stylistic muses from the canon include Ann Carson, Frank O’Hara, Bukowski, Terrance Hayes and Sylvia Plath. Also Patti Smith, Rave culture and Picasso. I’m not young anymore which is great because I’ve read more and care less.

There are a whole host of characters who flash in and out of being in the pages of this collection – can you give us some insight into where they come from for you?

I’m more of a visual person and will see/ inhabit a character as I write, which I usually don’t question. They are a multitude but are mostly outsiders in some way, looking in on the world, and in that sense are a chorus. I have been accused of being an unreliable narrator which I partly attribute to a collectivist upbringing in a Sri-Lankan family where there is never just your own voice. I hope I keep a reader with me by the writing being fresh and via thematic continuity, although voice and narrator may change. Perhaps like being at a party rather than catching up with one friend.

Love that as a metaphor. And it certainly does seem like readers enjoyed the party, to say the least. Your poetry has had a brilliant year, from featuring in The Telegraph and The Poetry Review to being well reviewed from Fran Lock as you’ve mentioned and Anthony Anaxagorou who called it ‘breathtakingly impressive’. You’ve recently been highly commended in the Forwards! What has that been like?

I had no idea how it would be received. I write so that I may see. I have imposter syndrome like many of us, for me because I’m not an academic literary writer. Having said that, a big part of my writing is about the community – it doesn’t occur in a silo. Writing groups, performance and The Poetry School have been formative – I live with inspiration all around me and it means so much to have writers I admire support my work as well as readers I’ve never met.

There is of course the hope that you do your publisher justice – I’m lucky that Verve picked this up, that the editor Stu Bartholomew is passionate about variety in poetry and had faith in my work. When I look at the panel of other Verve poets I am very grateful to be amongst them. Many of them are boundary-pushing and occupy unique and active spaces. 

They are a lovely bunch, aren’t they? We’re very proud to have you among them.

Rushika launched Afterlife As Trash alongside collections from three more of our amazing poets on May 6th 2021

Finally, the inevitable question: working on anything new?

Haha, I’m trying to write a semi-ecological series using only found words from one book. It’s quite hard and I may give up. I have some visual work curated by the talented S J Fowler coming out in the Seen Not Heard anthology – Kingston University Press, in October.  I’m also making poem objects such as contemporary prayer-bandages for pregnant women and love letters to plants.

That sounds magnificent, we can’t wait to see what you do next! Thank you so much for talking to us and good luck with all your experiments!

For more from Rushika, check out her collection Afterlife As Trash or read more about her on her author page here!

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In Conversation with Natalie Whittaker

Just half a year after we published her pamphlet Tree, Natalie Whittaker’s life looks very different. We sat down to talk to her about the stuggles of writing about stillbirth, how her heartbreaking pamphlet came to be and what it means to her now….

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

I’m very well, thank you. Things have changed a lot since you last heard from me – a week after the launch of ‘Tree’, I gave birth to my beautiful daughter Ivy, so she’s been taking up all of my time! It was a strange feeling to be launching ‘Tree’ while eight months pregnant, as the pamphlet is all about the loss of my first daughter. The online launch actually made it a lot easier; the audience could only see my head and shoulders on screen, so it wasn’t obvious!

Natalie launched Tree alongside pamphlets from three more of our amazing poets on March 31st 2021

I’m sure everyone would have been focussed on the reading regardless — could you tell us a little more about your beautiful (and heart-breaking) pamphlet?

‘Tree’ is full of poems that I wish I’d never been able to write. On the 4th October 2019, when I was five months pregnant, an ultrasound scan showed that my unborn baby had died in utero. Two days later I returned to the hospital and gave birth to my firstborn, stillborn daughter. The pamphlet is written out of the profound emotional and physical trauma of that experience, and the months that followed.

There was the funeral, the post-mortem, a diagnosis of PTSD, as well as the usual impact of childbirth on a woman’s body, but without a baby to look after. Just describing that again now, it sounds like a nightmare, rather than my own life. Baby loss is still a taboo subject (sitting as it does in the centre of a Venn diagram of taboo subjects: death, and female bodily experience) and it felt important that I should write about it.

Did you know: the pattern on Natalie's cover isn't a Tree at all, but the pattern of blood vessels in a placenta

And we’re very glad you managed to. Is it safe to presume that writing this pamphlet was a different experience to your previous work?

I was halfway through an MA in Writing when I suffered the loss, so it inevitably became the topic of my final portfolio – it was impossible to write about anything else. That final portfolio eventually became ‘Tree’. 

The poems came very quickly, in intense bursts of writing; one weekend in November 2019, and another weekend in December 2019 – so very, very soon after the loss. They came out pretty much fully-formed, with minimal need for editing, which isn’t my usual process at all.

Earlier that year I’d been experimenting with using extended spaces in place of punctuation, so that form came quite naturally by the time I was writing ‘Tree’.

It definitely reads as a work born out of the moment you were in. Has its significance to you changed this many months on?

I’m extremely proud of the pamphlet, and of how positively it has been received by readers and reviewers. But I think it will always be a collection that I have an uneasy relationship with.

As the title suggests, there is a lot of nature imagery in this pamphlet, particularly nature as a marker of time. Could you tell us a bit more about where that comes from for you?

‘Nature as a marker of time’ is a great summary of the recurring imagery in the pamphlet. A few of the poems repeat ‘June’ and ‘November’, as well as describing the changing state of trees, as there was a cruel sense of pathetic fallacy to my situation – I fell pregnant in Spring, and by the arrival of Autumn, and the turning of the clocks, my baby was gone. October and November were marked for me by a refusal to acknowledge or accept the passage of time, and a longing to turn back the clocks to when I was first pregnant, and start again.

The tree is of course a significant symbol as a measurement of the seasons, time, growth and grief. There are also the metaphorical associations with family trees, and the visual similarities with both uterine spiral arteries, and placental blood vessels.

Despite the references to time and the seasons, the pamphlet’s ordering is non-chronological, as my experience of grief was not linear. My memories of the period closely following the birth are a series of confused flashbacks, and I experienced what Denise Riley calls ‘time lived, without its flow’; a non-time that I could not process.

Finally, are you working on anything right now? When Ivy lets you, of course.

I’ve published two pamphlets now (my first, ‘Shadow Dogs’ was published by ignitionpress in 2018), as well as poems in magazines and unpublished bits – so I suppose I’m looking to publish a first collection next. I just need to be more organised about sending out a manuscript. If any publishers want to get in contact and save me the hassle, that’d be great!

 Seriously though, I’d like to plug the charities Tommy’s  and Sands, as well as the work of Rebecca Goss, Denise Riley, and Karen McCarthy-Woolf, who were influential when finding a voice for these poems.

They’re some of our favourites too! Thank you so much for talking to us and all the best for that first collection—we’ll be keeping an eye out 👀

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

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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).


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!