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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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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 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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Shazea Quraishi

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.

Shazea Quraishi

Shazea Quraishi is a Pakistan-born Canadian poet and translator based in London. An alumni of The Complete Works I, her first pamphlet,The Courtesans Reply, was published by Flipped Eye in 2012 andThe Art of Scratching, her first book-length collection, was published by Bloodaxe Books in 2015.Her poems have appeared in UK and US publications including The Financial Time, Poetry Review and most recently The Hudson Review & New England Review.


Brand new and long-awaited poetry from this elegant and meticulous poet.

What has the body of a white mouse to show us?
What is art?
And how can we live with death?

The contemplative and poised poems in this collection tackle the vast questions of life and art. Their simplicity is beguiling, their vocabulary – hypnotic, as tiny details build slowly, calmly, to create a vision as broad as existence itself.

The Taxidermist is Shazea Quraishi’s first published collection of poems since her 2015 debut full collection The Art of Scratching (Bloodaxe Books).


Day 3  

the highest tree in the garden is the first to be lit
Birds come   one orange-red bellied   another bright-
yellow black-headed   black wings tipped with white
and another   a pair
Sky blue as the bucket by the tap
air cool   an ant crosses her foot
  bees in the lavender bush

A bird perches in a leafless tree
dun-coloured   long-tailed quiet
watches her watching
preens under its wings

Here   the other side of the world grass looks different
earth bleached by sun   flowers blaze
air smells   how to describe it   orange

'There’s so much life buzzing through the pages, I was left in no doubt this is a fascination with life, not only its end.'
Charlotte Gann


Taking inspiration from sources including historical and medical texts, curator’s notes and the Complete Kama Sutra, Shazea’s first collection explores love and loss through a range of voices: an Iraqi mother holds her fragile son; under the guise of ardour, a courtesan searches a client for signs of the woman she loves; a wife is unsettled by her husband’s new family…

The Art of Scratching includes The Courtesans Reply, a sequence written in response to the Caturbhani, four plays written around 300 BC on the life of courtesans in India.

Shazea Quraishi’s first collection reveals the poet’s flair for re-imagining and feminising historical texts, and for inventing her own edgy fables of family life and childhood.’
Carol Rumens
The Guardian
More Verve Poetry Press Authors
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Natalie Whittaker

‘The thing that motivates me to write is a line or a sound or an image that I can’t get out of my head… The need to transform emotion (usually negative emotion) into something approaching comprehension.’

Natalie Whittaker is a poet and secondary school teacher from South East London. Her debut pamphlet Shadow Dogs was published by ignition press in 2018. Natalie is one of the London Library’s emerging writers for 2020 / 2021. Her poems have been widely published in UK magazines and anthologies; she was commended in the Verve poetry competition 2020, and won second place in the Kent and Sussex poetry competition 2020.


In Tree, Natalie Whittaker is writing about her personal experience of stillbirth and the mental illness that can follow such a traumatic event. It is a subject that is still rarely addressed in poetry, writing or conversation. That she is able to do so here, in eighteen intricate, carefully crafted poems, in a way that is engaging, communicative, distressing and yet also beautiful, is a testament to her abilities as a poet, her strong grasp on the power of language and the power of her imagination.

With these powers, she brings a harrowing subject close up and enables the reader to truly feel, to see, to understand, to share. It is a brave and necessary work, wonderfully and heart-breakingly realised.


the first week

Interflora deliver
three identical bereavement bouquets
white and green
within a week  the lilies die
their leaves spawn small black flies

in the kitchen  I put away the pans
and a blood clot pushes out of me
like a ragged rotten plum
into maternity tracksuit bottoms

the same night  my milk comes in
breasts are sauna stones  tears are steam
I slide cabbage leaves
into a maternity bra
go to bed  sweat into cabbage leaves
white and green
on the wall  there are small black flies

'‘Tree grows from a place of great pain – the experience of losing a child to stillbirth – but Natalie Whittaker’s brave, unflinching and ultimately redemptive poems find a way to make sense of such a devastating event. Through the poet’s desire to speak directly to her daughter, the poems stand as a memorial to a life that never was; in their preoccupation with time, with the passing of seasons, with the re-entry into the ordinary world after a great personal tragedy, they are ultimately a memorial to the preciousness and precariousness of life. This is a devasting book, but one that needed to be written – it is also one that needs to be read.’
Tamar Yoseloff


Natalie’s first pamphlet, Shadow Dogs, was published in 2018 by Ignition Press. They describe it as a collection of concise, haunting poems of suburban tales half-told, whose visceral and disturbing images are conveyed with unexpected intrigue. This is an absorbing debut delivered with acute, tender emotion from a writer who genuinely cares for their craft. These twenty-one poems herald a poet coming of age.

The twenty-one poems collected here are often short and restrained but, to steal from the pamphlet’s title, the elegant sentences and striking images cast enormous shadows, conjuring something much bigger than themselves. Because of the care with language and the sense of a lived life in these poems, they have long after-lives, resonating after they have been read.
Jonathan Edwards
Poetry School
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Marina Sánchez

‘The urgency of these poems would not let me sleep until I wrote and gathered them and they found a home in this pamphlet.’

Marina Sánchez is  a Latinx mix of Indigenous Mexican/Spanish/ British living in London. She is an award-winning poet and translator, widely published in literary journals. Her poems have been placed in many national and international competitions and then anthologised. Her debut pamphlet Dragon Child (Acumen, 2014), was Book of the Month on The Poetry Kit website and was featured in the British Library’s The Hidden Surprises of Poetry Pamphlets Event (2019). Some of her poems are included in Un Nuevo Sol (Flipped Eye, 2019), the first UK Latinx anthology.


In her new pamphlet, Mexica Mix, Marina Sánchez, one of the most distinctive poets from the UKs Latinx community, explores her experiences of living in Mexico, Spain and the UK.

Through the arc of Family, Icons and Earth, she writes a profound, rich and well-crafted sequence of poems grappling with displacement, bilingual identity and mixed heritage, challenging cultural icons and affirming her relationship with the planet, rooted in her Indigenous Mexican ancestry. By turns lyrical, urgent, sensual and subversive, her powerful use of vivid imagery and language both voice the personal and engage the collective.

Place your hand on this book and you will feel the heartbeat of the poems inside.

Marina Sánchez’s poetry is charged with fervour and passion, and deep connection with her Indigenous Mexican and Spanish roots – Nahuatl (Aztec) and Spanish tongues entwine to tell their stories, reclaim lost knowledge and celebrate their existence.


Clouds of Doubt

Mother’s mouth was a story-telling flower,
painted in her favourite bougainvillea
lipstick, conjuring clouds of doubt
about where she was born.

Sometimes she’d say it was Cuernavaca,
‘the city of eternal spring’,
on the slopes of her beloved volcanoes
and the Chichinatzin mountains,

where dad would stop to buy her orchids.
Other times, she’d say we came from Mixtecs.
But she looked down on ‘indios’ and ‘prietos’,
only pointing out her skin colour

to boast how she turned chocolate in the sun.
While she resented my questions,
what else could I do? As a child,
I felt the weight she carried,

how she seemed trapped in her game
of concealing and revealing,
then sighs, quick laughter, silence.
My ancestors lie like budbursts in these tales.


Indios: native Indians from one of the many indigenous tribes in Mexico – Prietos: slang for someone who has dark skin
'"What if language was a body of water..." the poet asks. In these urgent and powerful poems Sánchez’s ancestral voices are in full flow, singing praise to life, the maternal, and the elemental.'
Cheryl Moskowitz


'Amazing poems on such an enormous and difficult subject. Perfectly put together. Beautiful. A real achievement.'
Mimi Khalvati

Published by Acumen in 2014, Marina’s first pamphlet was a series of poems both personal and universal. Personal as they stemmed from her experience of learning her daughter had CHARGE syndrome and universal as they touched on the hopes and fears of all mothers for their children.

The pamphlet was Book of the Month on The Poetry Kit website and was also featured in the British Library’s The Hidden surprises of Poetry Pamphlets Event with Gemma Meek (3 June 2019).

'A fine, direct and poignant exploration through a landscape that has no other map'
Jim Bennett
Poetry Kit

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Hannah Hodgson

“This pamphlet explores more about the seriousness of my illness, but also the unexpected light.”

Hannah wears her heart on her... T-shirt

Hannah Hodgson is a poet living with life-limiting illness. Her work has been published by the Poetry Society, Teen Vogue and Poetry Saltzburg, amongst others. She is the recipient of a 2020 Northern Writers Award for Poetry. Her first poetry pamphlet Dear Body was published by Wayleave Press in 2018.


Hannah has taken her regular hospitalization due to serious illness and made it into astonishing poetry. Her world of the hospital is sometimes like a zoo, sometimes like a gallery and sometimes a crowded town square. The wards contain tigers and crows, butterflies – doctors become poets, the dead turn into an art installation, while outside, the trees are plastic – as unchanging as Hannah’s shielding days that ‘drag like a foot.’

But between the pulled curtains of these words the details of real-life amongst the terminally ill are depicted in full colour. A daughter ‘cries neatly in a corner’ while her mourning father spins ‘his wedding band around his finger.’ Nurses fill ‘carrier bags marked ‘patient’s property’,’ while ‘the industrial plastic’ crinkles as a body is lifted from bed to trolley in its bag.

The poet’s eye feels unblinking at times – unable but also unwilling to blink. How could it when it has so much to show? These poems are heavy with import, but they are light with the liveliness of art that is beautifully rendered.


Little Deaths

After the death of my stomach,
the church was full of mourners –

but at the 15th funeral of myself
it’s just me and a few doctors.

We lay wreathes by each ear
and seal each urn with a hearing aid mould.

I’m a widower grieving herself.
My stem still living,

while all the petals have died;
my body has begun to droop.

‘These are extraordinary poems that contain both humour and grief towards a world that continually dehumanizes disabled people in multiple ways. With startling images, Hannah Hodgson balances anger and love, despair and hope – this is a pamphlet that will leave any reader irrevocably changed.' 
Kim Moore


Commissioned by The Lakes International Comic Art Festival, this is an anthology of some of the newest and most exciting talents emerging in British Comics. Hannah worked closely with artist Michael Lightfoot to create a piece exploring disability in Britain today, published alongside other work exploring climate change activism, mental health issues in a multicultural society and romance in a post-Brexit world.

A few sample panels from Hannah's comic

DEAR BODY (2018)

Hannah’s first pamphlet, Dear Body was published by Wayleave Press in 2018. An account fo her experiences suffering from an array of conditions that dramatically affect her life, this pamphlet raises questions about the relationship between person identity, the physical body and our place in the world.

'a short but genuinely powerful and carefully made work of literature. It shifted my understanding of disability and chronic illness.'
Jonathan Davidson
Under the Radar
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Jamie Hale

“It was important to me that I create something that highlighted, demonstrated the value that disabled people have, that we’re not just vulnerable, or disposable, that we’re a part of the world – and everyone’s interconnected.”

Jamie doing the writer thing (showing off how many books they own)

Jamie Hale is an artist, curator, poet, writer, playwright, actor, and director. They create poetry, comedy, scriptwriting, and drama for page, stage, and screen.

They have performed their work at the Barbican, Invisible Fest, Tate Modern, the Southbank Centre and with Graeae, and have written for publications including the Guardian and Magma. Their pandemic poetry pamphlet, Shield, is published in Jan 2021.

They are also an expert in disability and health and social care policy: They are CEO of Pathfinders Neuromuscular Alliance, chair Lewisham Disabled People’s Commission, and are studying for a Master’s in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics of Health at UCL.


As the COVID-19 pandemic erupted, Jamie was told by their GP that, due to their underlying health condition, they would not be a priority for critical care treatment.

Using the compressed form of a sonnet, Jamie wrote and re-wrote the experience of facing their own mortality, sometimes in their own voice, sometimes from the perspectives of others – a nurse working during the pandemic or the first carriers of the Spanish Flu – capturing the crisis from all angles.

This work became a pamphlet, Shield, 21 sonnets following Jamie through the grief of facing death while newly married, and into a place of resilience, resistance, and a commitment to creation against mortality.



my ventilator is set to 14 and 5
these are normal he says i type it frantic
he’s still a child in my head my brother says
don’t let your oxygen levels drop

below 80 don’t increase your
ventilator settings too much you’d risk
gastric insufflation 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

‘These are arresting, heart-stopping poems lit with a rare intensity. Hale’s poems don’t pull any punches, they explore what it is to live in a body and on the way touch the centre of the fragility deep inside all of us. Humane poems that will make you ache.’ 
Mona Arshi​


NOT DYING is Jamie’s self-written and solo-performed show, combining poetry, comedy, narrative storytelling and drama. It explores their experiences moving between the categories of ‘dying’ and ‘not dying’ and what it means to make art amidst this experience of flux.

It was developed through Barbican OpenLab, before being performed at the Lyric Hammersmith in June 2019 and the Barbican Centre as part of CRIPtic, a showcase of d/Deaf and disabled artists curated by Jamie in October 2019.

‘an acerbically funny and deeply thought-provoking monologue [...] Hale is a compelling and witty performer who makes you laugh and reflect in equal measure.' 
Agnes Carrington-Windo
Plays to See
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