Verve Poetry Festival – Highlights from 2018

Jane Commane launch at Verve Poetry Festival Last year’s Verve Poetry Festival was an incredible weekend of variety and fun, and this year I was determined to come away with some inspiration of my own. The day began with a mammoth climb to the giddy heights of the sixth floor in Birmingham’s narrow Waterstones store (where I attended workshops accompanied to the sound of church bells and pneumatic drills) and ended with readings from a score of different poets amidst bright pink bunting, free cake and an atmosphere of celebration.   

The first workshop I attended was led by Karen McCarthy Woolf, who introduced us to the Golden Shovel, a fascinating form (invented by Terrence Hayes) which grows out of a line from someone else’s poem. I love the idea of this, the fact that it embraces the original meaning and context but also creates its own. It struck me as a useful exercise to help eradicate writers block.henry moore sculpture

Sasha Dugdale’s workshop focused on memorials. We looked at some poems translated from Russian, Polish and Amharic, and photos of memorials. I was particularly struck by shape and form – the artist’s task of creating something representational, something meant to last. We discussed the idea of writing a memorial for those who are not remembered, those who have been airbrushed out of history, those who made mistakes, and I was particularly inspired by a picture of Henry Moore’s sculpture commemorating the first controlled nuclear chain reaction.

After barely enough time to catch breath I attended the launch of Jane Commane’s new collection Assembly Lines, and enjoyed a variety of readings from poets following the West Midlands / cities theme. I particularly enjoyed Matt Black’s poem about the destruction of the last two cooling towers in Sheffield, described as ‘two dirty chefs hats’ and ‘two grim bouncers’.

Jane Commane reading from her collection Assembly Lines

Jane Commane reading from her collection Assembly Lines

Assembly Lines is full of poems that interact with city spaces, and her poem about Coventry is very apt, evoking the city’s legendary Lady Godiva, with lines such as ‘an ugly/beautiful place that seeks someone to love it back’ and ‘wants you to know that she didn’t always look this way’.

We heard from Hannah Lowe, Sandeep Parmar and Pascale Petit, whose work included topics as diverse as the joys and trials of breastfeeding, the transformation of Helen of Troy, and the twisting pain of mental illness and family trauma. Pascale explained the genesis of her collection Mama Amazonica, describing how the Amazonian metaphor had helped her understand her mother’s experience, and I could really identify with what Hannah Lowe said, that for her poetry is a communal experience, something to be shared. I think that’s why I enjoy attending literary festivals so much!

Pascale Petit at Verve Poetry Festival

Pascale Petit reading from Mama Amazonica

Here’s a link to the Verve Poetry Festival website if you want to find out more.