A reflection on Verve Poetry Festival through the years

Cynthia Miller
9 min readFeb 21, 2021

This weekend in February is normally reserved for Verve. As the festival isn’t happening this year, the Verve Team took a trip down memory lane and reflected on our favourite moments over the years.

A note from Stuart Bartholomew, Festival Co-Director & Programmer

It is really difficult to think of just 2020 when I think of Verve. Somehow, the festival arrived fully formed in 2017 with minimal funding and a whole bunch of novices running things. That year we featured showcases from Burning Eye Books, Nine Arches Press and the incredible Outspoken Press poets. We booked incredible poets like Kim Moore, Mona Arshi, Daljit Nagra, Helen Mort, Kayo Chingonyi, Sarah Howe and those incredible Outspoken poets Anthony Anaxagorou, Raymond Antrobus, Sabrina Mahfouz and Joelle Taylor — we had stripped down longer shows from Hannah Silva and Antosh Wojcik featuring effects pedals and drums courtesy of Penned In The Margins. We had a dice slam, and a fantastic edition of Hit The Ode featuring music and foreign languages courtesy of Apples and Snakes. We had our competition event won in its first year by the incredible Susannah Dickey. And our podium poets featuring local poets Helen Calcutt, Geraldine Clarkson, Jasmine Gardosi and Amerah Saleh.

Mona Arshi, reading from SMALL HANDS

We made some (apparently brave) decisions to alternate more sedate readings with raucous performance events. We allowed performers to watch as many of the other events as they wanted, largely because we didn’t have space for a green room! We made sure our programme reflected the cultural make up of our home city of Birmingham and that as well as featuring poets of note and getting them to our city, we also had space for emerging or even pre-emerging local poets and open mic opportunities throughout. It was almost as if the audience WERE the performers and vice versa! And certainly even those who didn’t perform were actively engages in or dreaming about writing!

Straight away, we saw that the kind of things we thought would happen DID happen. Joelle Taylor in the audience clapping in between each poem while the rest of…

Cynthia Miller

Cynthia Miller is a Strategy and Innovation Consultant and Co-Director of the Verve Poetry Festival.