Swapping the Present for a Future: The VERVE Anthology of Beginnings (ed. Caroline Bird)
She had a scar on her temple – / it belonged to a fairy story she couldn’t remember…
If you live in Birmingham, you’ll know about Verve, both Festival and Press, both of which are dedicated to promoting the city and its vibrant spoken-word scene. Verve was co-founded by Stuart Bartholomew and Amerah Salah, and also promises to find homes for voices that struggle to fit or be heard.
The Anthology was published earlier this year and contains 24 poems: every one is a unique, stunning piece of work. Full credit to Caroline Bird not simply for staggering curation, but an eye to pieces that don’t just complement each other, but lift a whole as a result.
Lessons from the Text
Anthologies are tricky beasts: it can be hard to pick out favourites in a sea of difference, especially if dozens of poets are involved. However, having a favourite poet of mine doing the curation is a massive plus: this work is both a testament to her skill and to how much top quality work is being produced by poets right now. Of course, there was never going to be a duff poem here… but honestly, the range of work is immense.
I’ve listed my favourites below, but there’s a better than average chance that those favourites will change on subsequent readings. Anthologies are great in that regard, especially if you’re trying to write a poem for a submission that has a specific brief. Understanding how another poet approached a subject is, after all, a proven teaching method. We learn from each other, and all move forward as a result.
If you’re stuck for gift ideas as a poet, I reckon asking for specific anthologies is a great idea. You have a mini encyclopedia of ‘how other people craft’ and can use it as reference material for yourself going forward. All the courses I take will make me read poems I’ve never seen before, and it is a realization that however well-read you think you are? You aren’t. This group of 24 are a quick, easy gateway experience. Go buy it.
Will you read it again? It will, over time, have Post it Notes inserted into it with ‘Poem on X here’ written on them, as I find works I want to refer back to when I’m working on different projects myself. There’s a lot of white space to admire in this anthology too, which can often be scary but actually is a whole second tier of poetry proficiency.
Would you recommend it for me to read? YES. Read more anthologies. Read more poets, and if you can’t afford to do it as much as you like? Anthologies allow you to know work by lots of people and talk about it with confidence. It’s a win/win for everybody.