Equipped with only a small printed booklet of my Black Country poems, I performed for the first time at Waterstones in Birmingham. This was at the launch of Cain, the fifth poetry collection by Luke Kennard, who at the time was my lecturer at the University of Birmingham. To be invited to read at his event was an honour; to perform in front of some of my classmates was a terror; to read at Waterstones set me up for the next big opportunity of my poetry journey.
I was invited by Luke to read at his launch in June 2016. He had tutored my cohort on poetry for only a handful of sessions, so it was wonderful to know that he had a positive impression of my work, even in these early days. Also reading was Claire Trevien, another poet published by Penned in the Margins, as well as Richard o’Brien (the current Birmingham Laureate), Serena Arthur (Birmingham Young Laureate at the time), and others. The event was organised by manager of the Birmingham Waterstones, Stuart Bartholomew.
It was at this event where I first met Stuart, who would later become the co-founder and director of Verve Poetry and Spoken Word Festival. For its inaugural year, 2017, Verve would be held in the very same place as the launch of Cain, over three floors of Waterstones. In 2017, I assisted with the festival as a volunteer, and also had the opportunity to perform: my poem had been selected for inclusion in the festival’s first anthology, This Is Not Your Final Form (published by The Emma Press). You can read the poem, ‘Wild West Midlands’, below.
The success of the first Verve Poetry Festival saw it grow from strength to strength, and more hands were needed to help bring it to the stage – even bigger and better – for 2018. I moved from a simple stewardship role into a more organisational role, eventually defining my role as a project manager of sorts. I helped Stuart, his co-director Cynthia, and a couple of others on the team to plan, prepare, and deliver the festival for the years of 2018, 2019, and 2020. I organised elements of the launch parties, coached and managed the volunteers, and ensured the smooth running of the festival across all four days. I even brought my own little flair to the festival, by introducing the idea of a sweet stall to keep all our poets and audiences fizzing with energy and excitement!
The festival was a brilliant stepping stone on my poetry journey, opening doors for me to many exciting opportunities. It also helped me gain a sense of what I wanted to do as a career, and later would help me land a job as Creative Programme Coordinator at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. In this role, I help manage the Stratford Poetry Festival, and so in 2020, it was time to bid Verve farewell. Working on the festival was a wonderful experience, and I hope others will be able to enjoy a similar position in the team in future years.
Following the Verve timeline to its conclusion in 2020, we arrive at the present day. My new job, and the Stratford Poetry Festival, have been cancelled for this year due to the current crisis, but I am looking forward to returning to it whenever that might be.
For now, let’s throwback again – there’s plenty more to explore of my poetry journey, some of which will appear next Thursday in my next ‘Throwback’ post. For now, here’s ‘Wild West Midlands’, previously published in This Is Not Your Final Form (The Emma Press, 2017).
Wild West Midlands 'Thousands of pairs of eyes tried to take in that wonderful review … Indians, British cavalry, Mexicans, cowboys, Cossacks and the rest…’ - Birmingham Mail, 2 June 1903 That day, our Jack became ‘Stamping Bull’, tucking pigeon feathers behind his ears, streaking engine grease across both cheeks to storm the streets with a high-pitched chatter: Yadda yadda yadda! The other boys were the ‘Brummagem Broncos’, hands holstered in their waistbands as they sauntered, caps on crooked, pennies taped to their heels to hear them click. A clattering of hooves: not made between teeth, or by curling the tongue, but this time by horses, by hundreds of horses hurtling down the narrow canyon of the street. A stampede - of horses painted the colour of cattle; horses whose riders stood up in their saddles, swaddled in fabrics of red and blue, brows wreathed in a medallion of plumes. When the wild pageant had passed out of view, Jack and the Broncos, as nimble as prairie dogs, darted out to scout what they could: a coloured thread, a ticket stub, a crooked nail from a hoof.