By Kibriya Mehrban.
With (less than) two weeks to go until Verve Poetry Festival, I’m thrilled to have been invited to talk to the team at Overhear about the festival, the Overhear app and how the two are marrying in the walking tours that will be taking place every day of the festival.
I’ve been involved with Verve since its beginning, backing the first crowdfunder, entering the competitions and volunteering at both the 2017 and 2018 festival. This year I’m ecstatic to be interning with the Verve team, mostly helping out with marketing. It’s especially exciting given that Verve’s third iteration is set to be even bigger and better than its first two. We’re at a brand new venue, working with more poets and more partners than ever before.
Taking place in the heart of the city for three years, first at Waterstones Birmingham and now at The Old Rep Theatre, place has always been a hugely significant factor in how Verve plays out. It’s because of the amazingly vibrant and diverse city we live in that our programme and our audiences are so beautifully broad. It’s a testament to how much stock Verve put in the connection between poetry and place that our competition (and therefore anthology) themes so far have been ‘Birmingham’ in 2017, ‘Cities’ in 2018 and in 2019, ‘Community’. Even having a glance over the entries shows the range of what this city has to offer.
With that in mind, Overhear are the perfect partner to go into the 2019 festival with. The app is fascinating in how it links poetry with place. It is often thought of as abstract and disconnected, but this is a project that grounds poetry in the physical surroundings that inspire it. I love how, to access this poetry, you have to go out into the city and hunt it down, inhabit the same space as the work and experience it in its natural habitat.
For our festival walking tours in particular, you’ll be taken around the route by one of the poets featured, getting to hear more about what they love (and don’t love) about the city, how it stimulates creativity in them and how it might do the same for you. Many of them lead straight onto festival events for you to channel all that energy into, lots featuring the poets you’ll be hearing on tour, like Casey Bailey and Sean Colletti at RAP Party on Thursday and Nafeesa Hamid and Rupinder Kaur at Golden Tongue on Friday. Our closer, Funkenteleky, features too many of these brilliant acts to even list. The Friday evening tour of course, will bring you to the Overhear launch event at the Hippodrome, featuring a showcase of even more of the Verve Press Poets featured on the app. What a great breadcrumb trail to the festival!
It’s also a wonderful way to support local business, something that Verve has always been passionate about doing – there’s the obvious, like local poetry presses but also the less obvious: did you know we have our own specially brewed beer from local brewery Two Towers? I’ve heard on the grapevine that there might be poetry to be found in their tap house… The Overhear walking tours are going to be brilliant for connecting the festival and festival-goers with the local area – they’re pretty much guaranteed to help you see the city in a new light.
We’ve always said that our festival is for people who have been to every literature/poetry festival on the circuit and for people who have never been to one before. In the same way, Overhear is exciting for poetry lovers and a brilliant way to bring poetry to people who might not otherwise find it, taking it out of bookshops and embedding it in the wider world. Whether poetry has always been the soundtrack to your city or if you’re tuning in for the first time, Overhear and their walking tours are going to be an experience you won’t want to miss.