Beth Calverley, founder of The Poetry Machine
Photo by Amanda Thomas for Oh Magazine

Beth Calverley, poet, creative coach and founder of The Poetry Machine

Bristol's poetry community and adapting poem co-creation during the pandemic

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Beth Calverley

Beth Calverley is a poet, creative coach, founder of The Poetry Machine and co-host of spoken word platform, Milk Poetry. Beth grew up in a village outside Bristol and, after studying at the University of Leeds, moved back to the city and began to co-create poems with people of all ages through her project, The Poetry Machine. Through The Poetry Machine, Beth co-creates poems with community members on her manual typewriter, helping them to express their thoughts and feelings. She collaborates with charities, companies, hospitals, universities, schools and festivals nationally and is Poet in Residence at UHBW NHS Foundation Trust, based at South Bristol Community Hospital, kindly funded by Above & Beyond. During the pandemic, Beth has been adapting her poetry experiences to the online environment, helping people to feel more connected and less alone.

May 20th, 2020

What do you like about living in Bristol? 

There is a sense of real freedom here - ideas have plenty of room to spread their wings. Partly that is because there is plenty of green space to play in and so much beautiful water to wander beside. 

When I visit other cities, I constantly crave the countryside, whereas Bristol gives me space to think. Also, the number of gatherings that take place make it perfect for a poet who specialises in community engagement. 

It is also a very kind, conscious city on the whole and I think kindness brings an exciting energy, with lots of people living and working in harmony side-by-side. Even during lockdown, my neighbours have all come together via WhatsApp to lend each another a hand... I borrowed some tomato seeds from one neighbour and lent a bottle of white spirit to another!

Beth Calverley, founder of The Poetry Machine Photo by Amanda Thomas for Oh Magazine
Beth Calverley, founder of The Poetry Machine

Where do you recommend poetry lovers go in or around Bristol or Bath? 

I'm one of the producers of Milk Poetry, a nurturing slam event at the Wardrobe Theatre with lots of fun themed events. We are on pause due to the pandemic, but you can find our social media to keep up to date with our news. 

At the moment, Bristol Tonic is running its lovely events online so check them out too. 

Other gorgeous Bristol-based poetry events include Raise the Bar, Satellite of Love and BlahBlahBlah.

In your opinion, what are the must-do activities for visitors to the area? 

The City Farms are beautiful in Bristol so I would definitely recommend a wander round one of them. It is impossible to be sad while looking at a goat. 

 I also love bouldering so I would advise visiting one of Bristol's climbing centres (it may sound terrifying but it actually helped me to get over my fear of heights!) 

For views, I'd say the Clifton Observatory at sunset or, if you get a chance, head out to the Chew Valley for a walk overlooking the lake. 

Then, in the evening, go to any pub where they play live music for the complete Bristol experience! 

By the way, while we're talking about places in Bristol, I'd like to put in a good word for parks. We are so lucky to have them and they are constantly under threat. This time in isolation has shown us what an incredible resource our green spaces are so let's keep making the most of them into the future please!

Clifton Observatory, Bristol Photo by Tobias Berchtold
Clifton Observatory, Bristol

Can you describe Bristol or Bath in your wonderfully-poetic way? Have you ever written a poem about the area? 

Through The Poetry Machine, I've written heaps of poems about Bristol and the people who live here, most of which go off into the world and I never see them again! I have also been commissioned by various wonderful organisations across the city to create poems about Bristol's past, present and future that are shared through videos, performances, printed copies, media or as public artwork. 

For example, NHS at 70 commissioned me to tour the ten hospitals in UH Bristol & Weston NHS Foundation Trust, where I am the Poet in Residence, creating poems about each hospital. Another of my favourite collaborations was being commissioned by BBC Bristol to write a poem about Bristol for the International Balloon Fiesta - click here to watch the video.

Bristol International Balloon Fiesta Photo by Paul Box
Bristol International Balloon Fiesta

If people are interested in creating a poem with you, where can they find you this year? 

Sadly, my events and festivals have been cancelled for the Summer and the events industry is uncertain - but the good news is that I have brought The Poetry Machine online, where it is building momentum, thanks to the support of my amazing community. 

Arts Council England gave me a grant from their relief fund for artists, which has given me some time to refocus. I've been bringing family members, friendship groups and co-workers together for online Poetry Party events

I host a warming conversation to unearth each person's memories and then create a portrait poem, live in the moment. You can book one of my online experiences, arrange a group workshop or order a poem here: www.thepoetrymachine.live/online-experiences 

Keep up to date with Beth Calverley's social media channels for all her upcoming events and news. (Instagram @poetrymachine / Facebook  Twitter @BethCalverley)

Beth Calverley, founder of The Poetry Machine Photo by Amanda Thomas for Oh Magazine
Beth Calverley, founder of The Poetry Machine
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