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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!