Verve Poetry Festival Highlights – A Celebration of Diversity

Geraldine Clarkson

What I enjoyed most about the recent Verve Poetry Festival (first of many, I hope) was the fact that it embraced poetry in all its guises, from the academic to the experimental, the hilarious to the downright ridiculous. We had spoken word at its most ostentatious, the big names and the new faces, plenty of opportunities to hear about the writing process, and workshops on themes as varied as ‘taking risks’ and performance technique…   

Here are some of my highlights from the Sunday:

Poet on a Podium

Geraldine Clarkson featured in one of the ‘podium poets’ slots. These events took place in the art section, tucked away from the rest of the shop – a kind of art book sanctuary. I loved hearing Clarkson read, especially the way she clearly relishes every single word in each of her poems, e.g. in Love Cow: “Oh cow of love you have me pinned / to your evergreen felt / and are in at my ear with fermenting / oaths and actual importuning”. Read the rest of the poem here.

Antosh Wojcik

Antosh Wojcik

Glitch Rhythms

Antosh Wojcik’s piece could be described as a storytelling performance, or perhaps a combination of experimental poetry and music. It was certainly not like anything I’d heard before. The focus was on rhythm, with the drums echoing the breathing of Wojcik’s grandfather, and the story seemed quite abstract to begin with, but eventually settled into an interrogation of memory, how dementia affects relationships, the pain of watching a loved one suffer and the problems of miss-communication. Surreal but also powerful.

Ruby Robinson

Ruby Robinson

Confronting the Sound

Ruby Robinson’s collection Every Little Sound focuses on what we can hear. She described poetry as “filling the gaps and spaces where it’s difficult to express things”. I was really moved to hear her read a poem entitled ‘Interlude’ which was written after a three-year period in which she was unable to write, when “it wasn’t possible to think in a poetic way”. It begins: “During the interlude, nothing is found or figured out. Minds unhitch / orbit-less. Eyes forget to blink…” Read the rest here.

Interview with a Clod

Luke Kennard’s hilarious interviews with the four elements had me in stitches! I love the way his work is both absurd and grounded, with a thought-provoking philosophical aspect to it, and he’s a deadpan performer. He read us some of his most surreal work from ‘Cain’, a series of anagrams based on the biblical passage of Genesis 4v9-12. You can hear some of his poetry here.

And here’s my attempt at a poem on Verve, made up (partially) of quotes from the poets themselves:

Verve Voices

a love cow, a poem, cake,
“wisdom is forked enlightenment snaked”
the breadth and depth, the range and reach, the rush
of words through daring speech:
weaving bunting, pink
t-shirts, a fuzz of words – words, more
words, a bear whose fur is real
“the time is right”
“snuck up on me”
Earl Grey cake and Earl Grey tea

distorted breathing, rhythmic drumming,
breathing, glitches, speech tectonic:
the reality of memory
the problem of memory
the losing of memory
“I can’t re-write your mind”
a steady beat
a steady beat
“an audience brings a different vibe”

“getting more and more angry”
“resonate” “resonate” “resonate!”
“an anthology of my multiple selves”
“stirring the water”
“to be human”
“nothing changed”
“not to preach but to write poetry”
“the beauty of poetry is that ability to just let it out”
“distance helps”
“you can’t see mental illness”
“the poet’s duty to bear witness”
“bear witness”
“bear witness”