Verve Poetry Festival 2018

Well, readers (if you exist, it feels like writing into the abyss), I haven’t written properly her since Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Most of my reviews are written for The Norwich Radical, and I’ve now been writing for them for over three years as a volunteer. I felt the urge to write having recently come back from Verve Poetry Festival (alas, as an audience member, not a participant).

One of my cousins is at university in Birmingham, so I took the opportunity to get her a Saturday ticket and visit her whilst attending the festival. We had a lovely time, and I discovered new voices amongst old favourites. It was a bit overwhelming at times being surrounded by so many familiar names and faces, and by the end of the festival my brain kind of stopped working, but it was well worth it. I’ll go through some of my personal highlights.

Dead or Alive Slam

I’d never been to a Dead of Alive Slam, where actors read the work of past poets, and compete against the alive ones. I was very much in team ‘alive’, who were the overall winners, but I discovered poems by both I enjoyed. It featured Genevieve Carver, Isaiah Hull and Caroline Teague – the first two being new to me, and all of them brilliant.  Team Death consisted of poems by Christina Rossetti, Forough Farrokhzad, and Djuna Barnes (read by Tembi Xena, Lorna Nickson Brown, and Zeddie Lawal). Djuna Barnes really stood out to me, which might come in handy for the workshop I’m going to run with Spread the Word – The Femme Canon.

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City Poems

This section featured six commissioned poets, alongside competition winners, and was hosted by the judge Luke Kennard. What I liked about this section was that there were so many poets, and so much variety. It can be difficult to listen to poetry across three days (even for us poets) so this quick succession of poets was welcome for a morning event at the start of a long day. It featured local poets including Roy McFarlane, Bohdan Piasecki, Amerah Saleh, Jenna Clake, Casey Bailey, and Ahlaam Moledina. Having been tutored by Piasecki whilst in the Roundhouse Poetry Collective, and having met Saleh on a previous trip to Birmingham, it was particularly good to hear both their poetry. You can buy the book of poems here.

Stablemates: Bobby Parker

Chaired by Jill Abram, creator of Stablemates, there was discussion and poetry from Martha Sprackland, James Brookes, and Bobby Parker in celebration of new work from Offord Road Books. Although I wasn’t expecting it, Bobby Parker was my favourite poet in this section. He was open about the criticism he had received from his poem ‘THANK YOU FOR SWALLOWING MY CUM’, of which I wasn’t previously aware had provoked accusations of misogyny. I read the poem myself and although I think it’s horrible, I think it’s the intention, it being an exploration of this dark side of masculinity and the validation that men may place on such an act. It is simultaneously simple and complex, and I like it and Parker’s other word. I didn’t realise the connection between this poem and Thank You For Swallowing, which publishes incredible feminist writing.

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The Poetry Assembly: Romalyn Ante

Although a celebration of Jane Commane’s Bloodaxe collection, the event was also supported by Roz Goddard, Liz Berry, Romalyn Ante, and Matt Black. My favourite poet was Romalyn Ante, with her slow, rhythmic poetry, with vivid imagery, it was beautiful to hear her recite. My only issue with the programming of Verve Poetry Festival is the division of sections labelled ‘poetry’ and ‘spoken word’, when there were examples such as this where Ante knew her poems by heart and was in the ‘poetry’ section, yet others such as the Out-Spoken Press section were labelled ‘spoken word’ when both feature books.

Out-Spoken Press Showcase

In moving on to this ‘spoken word’ section, I believe one featured poet, Raymond Antrobus, has been quite vocal about claiming the title of ‘poet’ as his own rather than solely a ‘spoken word artist’. This showcase also featured Anthony Anaxagorou, Joelle Taylor, Sabrina Mahfouz, and Bridget Minamore. I’m very well versed on the latter three poets, all three featuring the the She Grrrowls anthology from Burning Eye Books and so it was great to hear them all together at Verve Poetry Festival.

Nymphs & Thugs: Maria Ferguson

The penultimate event I went to featured Salena Godden, Matt Abbott, Maria Ferguson, and Jamie Thrasivoulou. Whilst they were all great poets, Ferguson was my highlight here, and is always completing captivating. After her show ‘Fat Girls Don’t Dance’ (which I have seen and bought a copy of the book of the same title), she is now working on a show called ‘Essex Girls’. As well as her usual fantastic poetry, in the second half of the two hour slot she gave us a sneak peek into some of her writing from the show.

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Luke Wright & Ross Sutherland

Tom Chivers of Penned in the Margins presented the last section I could attend before hopping on my newly booked coach (otherwise I would have been on night buses from arriving by train 1am the next day in London). It think it was actually Tom Chivers who introduced me to the work of Luke Wright and Ross Sutherland just under a decade ago as an awkward undergrad on an internship at PITM whilst studying at UEA. I have since worked with Ross Sutherland during Shake the Dust, and Luke Wright kindly published my small selection of poems with Nasty Little Press and put me on at Latitude Festival, and I have kept following both their work. It was, as always, great to hear their stuff, especially having recently read and loved The Toll by Wright, and listened to some of the Imaginary Advice podcasts by Sutherland.

All in all, I hope you’ve enjoyed reading my recommendations (I has taken me a couple of hours of writing after all). Hopefully next year I’ll be writing as a fellow participant! I’ve been officially freelance since October 2017, so stay tuned for when I find time to write about what that has meant for me thus far (clue: I’m still very much settling back into the UK since my return from Spain in July).

 

The Last Word Festival

The Last Word Festival is a week-long annual festival of spoken word events at The Roundhouse. In addition to  the scratch show for ‘Dear Adventure’ with Kid Glove, I watched ten other shows. You can find five of them reviewed briefly here, and another five reviewed on The Norwich Radical website.

Sophie Rose

Quiet Violence

I hadn’t seen Sophie Rose perform, and this ending up being of of my favourite shows of the festival. Rose had a natural quality to her performance, as she moved from narrative story-telling to poetic details, successfully blending humour with more serious moments. The ‘quiet violence’ began with high heels, which made me think I should get rid of mine, dusty because they look so much better in my wardrobe that on my feet, where I’d eventually be stumbling and sporting some of the ankle-protection shown on Rose’s subtle costume. The concept of the show appeared to me as a unique one, yet it was so relatable that it was both hilarious (who knew bags could be so funny?) and, dare I say, life changing. By the end, it encouraged the audience to do what makes them happy, rather than what they feel obliged to do, to find the people who would make them soup when they’re ill, and to change what they don’t like rather than simply put up with it. Sophie Rose wants to know, what’s your quiet violence?

Producing Your Own Poetry Show

Throughout the festival there were a range of workshops offered. Having seen Sophie Rose’s show, I was curious as to how this would also work with a workshop about how others could produce shows. Rose made the room a comfortable space, where we worked individually and as a group to discuss different aspects of making a show. It was difficult to contain in the hour slot, and she generously offered extra time, as well as the space for collaborative discussion under her direction, and gave everyone detailed notes and the offer to contact her. One of the useful tips I picked up was about distilling your show idea down to one word; my word ended up being ‘self-acceptance’, which isn’t what I expected, but shows an idea of what the audience should get from it as well as the artist.

Luke Wright

What I Leaned From Johnny Bevan

Poetry veteran, Luke Wright, previewed his new show amongst many emerging artists. With many shows already under his belt, I was excited to see what this one would bring. Sitting in the audience, I was already excited by the music playing, and as the show began, we heard crafted guitar twangs (from Art Brut’s Ian Catskilken) to a backdrop of changing scene sketches. I was filled with nostalgia of my own early twenties, that were often filled with drinking in council estates with mates and days spent in my first years at UEA, locations both featured in the show. Yet this nostalgia also gave a sense of timelessness, a dystopian feel, which the tale of Johnny Bevan represented, that we remain to the social class we’re born in, and that just as previous governments reinforced these class divisions, so will the current one. With the election results still fresh, the poetic narrative of Johnny Bevan painted a bleak future, but perhaps, in this gritty reality, it is a reminder as to why it is important to keep fighting. Essentially, this is a story, but the poetry of the show is not merely due to the use of rhyme, but the depth of meaning behind the words.

Poetry Reincarnation

I didn’t know what I had let myself in for at the time – Poetry Reincarnation started at around 7pm, and it was stilling going past the scheduled end time of 11.15pm. I had also attended part of the earlier programme of events, with a panel discussion on poetry and, essentially, its importance in our lives creatively and politically. The evening event kicked off with Malika Booker, giving a somewhat unspoken progression this world has made beyond the Beat Poet generation of white men, and its unmentioned allegations of pedophilia, and support of the NAMBLA. Since finding this information out, I now always feel uneasy about this kind of worship of poets such as Allen Ginsberg. There were around twenty poets, so I’m going to focus on my favourites. Booker was one highlight, having recently read ‘Pepperseed’ and she was followed by Cecila Knapp, who represented the under-30s and did a stellar job all weekend. Libby Houston was a poet from the older generation of poets performing since the 60s who impressed with her poetics, humour and wide smile.

Kei Miller reminded me that I want to buy his collection, and poets such as John Hegley and Elvis McGonagall brought excitement to the event in the form of rhyme, rhythm and comedy. Music was used effectively throughout the show, breaking up the mass of spoken word, and including more experimental and psychedelic parts that were evocative of the 60s, yet Gwyneth Herbert was a powerhouse in this respect, with a voice that ranged from soft and subtle to loud and proud. Janaka Stucky was a poet I was unfamiliar with, and coming from Boston, it felt a privilege to see him perform his work. Salena Godden, recently mentioned by Hannah Silva at The Place for Poetry, was even more of a delight to watch after hearing this analysis. Francesca Beard was a poet I recently argued at She Grrrowls, and I saw her do some of the same, as well as new material, and again, she left me wanting more, with every word layered with meaning, yet also dishing out a dry, witty humour throughout her set. I sadly missed the end of Dr John Cooper Clarke’s set, and leaving after a couple of sexist, tired wife jokes, I was disappointed with what I did see, but hopefully I’ll be better impressed when I see him again in July. The way poets such as JCC are often held on a pedestal, it seems almost sacrilege to dare say his jokes were sexist, and as much as I want to suggest that perhaps I just couldn’t keep to the the speed of his speech, I can’t deny that these cliched wife jokes just don’t tickle me. And surely, if we want our poetry to be truly revolutionary, I can’t be too scared to say something is sexist. What this event did showcase, as well as the non-programmed event simultaneously taking place in the Made in Camden bar, of which I was meant to be a part, is the vibrancy and variety of contemporary poetry today, and the importance of learning about poets who came before us.

Cecilia Knapp

Finding Home

In case you’ve not noticed, Cecilia Knapp has been a regular feature in The Last Word Festival. This scratch was presented almost in full, stripped down against a backdrop of a blue moon sinking behind a horizon. We saw the first half, where Knapp delivered her usual poetic narrative, mostly in free verse, that lulled the sold-out audience into her world, painted so beautifully with her words. I felt there was a danger of romanticising things here, but this was possibly because cigarette references personally jar with me. I know this criticism is probably unfounded, and otherwise that I would struggle to find any room for improvement here, because however beautiful the language, this is her life. ‘Finding Home’ is a piece that manages to be both autobiographical, and I found that I could relate to the words, and I was taken on a journey, so that by the end – or the half-way point – I wasn’t ready for the lights to come up.