Verve Poetry Festival with Scarlett Ward

You’d be forgiven for believing that the Bull ring would be completely dead at 9am on a Sunday morning, however our second city is always buzzing with some kind of activity. This was especially true of Waterstones bookshop, where a group of poetry-minded people gathered to kick off the early morning Verve breakfast session of spoken word poetry.

Verve festival is a four-day celebration of poetry through readings, workshops and a line up of world-class writers, and it was my absolute pleasure to be invited to play a small role by performing with Brum Stanza poetry group. This year it took place from 15th-18th February and in those days crammed an absolute array of events brightening up the city and bringing together like minded people from all over the country. Special shout outs to co-directors Stuart Bartholomew, Cynthia Miller, Nellie Cole, Children’s Programmer Emma wright and Team member Alex Ashford.

 
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The second floor of Waterstones had been transformed into a small stage area with chairs placed in a semi circle facing the speakers. Bunting, posters and paper lanterns were pinned to the book shelves giving a really cozy and jubilant air to the place. Verve representatives were giving out stickers and taking names, and by half past 9 it was quite heartwarming to see that there were not only friends of performers that had populated the seats, but also members of the public who had come to watch.

 
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Richard Archer, gracious organizer of Brum Stanza poetry group hosted the session, opening with a piece nodding towards the breakfast theme of the morning. All poets performed superbly, and there was a definite sense of unity and support in the room. Brum stanza takes place the first Tuesday every month and consists of a workshop and reading session in a warm and friendly atmosphere.

 

Janet Smith really stood out for me, the sounds within her poetry lent themselves so well to her performance. The assonance of “surf”, “spray and pebble” contributed to the sounds of the ocean as the poem described a figure swimming “fish-like” and graceful. Nigel Hutchinson’s first poem struck me deeply, particularly the lines “salt on lips and ozone in nostrils” to emphasise an especially powerful image of a “boy on a beach”. It left a solemn and pensive air to hang over the room as the audience was reminded of the cruel reality facing many people fleeing for safer shores only to be met with prejudice and suffering. 

 

I realized I was next up, and I explained a little about my background living in the midlands and in this brummy bookshop I felt as though I could read my poems about our “soot-drenched air” and “man-planted clockwork forests” as though sharing an inside joke friends that live on your street. I read from the wonderful Wild Dreams And Louder Voices which was put together by The Verve Poetry Press, a team of people that, in conjunction with the verve poetry festival strive to represent a diverse and rich variation of incredible poetry. 
You can purchase the anthology either from Waterstones or online here www.vervepoetryfestival.com/shop

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Another final I felt particularly moved by was Emma Kemp, who opened by boldly stating that she wanted to talk about being a “21st century celibate”. I want to refrain from using words such as “brave” because what humans do with their bodies is nobody else’s business and for so long virginity and sexual activity have been used as tools for shame and oppression in equal measure, and to suggest she is brave connotes a shame in her topic, so I simply wanted to state how beautifully Emma read her poetry. The closing line utterly blew me away: “femininity and power, it’s not a joke to me, I am woman. I am Virgin.” Those pauses between short statements reinforced a gritty strength that is every bit feminine. Further lines in her second poem illustrated the power of a soft touch, as “the fabric of this day is grey - the colour in it; you” was very tender and gentle in texture, but full of the vibrancy Emma had shown throughout her performance.

 

There are plenty of videos and snippets of verve extras online if you were a little late to the Verve poetry party. I hope that my brief outline of just one short event gives readers a flavor of the wonder atmosphere that grew with the festival, because with the midlands poetry scene what really strikes me is this overwhelming feeling that everyone around you wants you to do well. Whether its smiles of encouragement from well established founders of the festival or the chatter of retweeting events and accomplishments coming from colleagues-come-friends, midlands poets are truly in it together.

 

WORDS AND IMAGES BY SCARLETT WARD

jessica lena