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Tag: Jo Bell

52 not out

52 logo

Thursday 30th April saw the last prompt descending from the ether to awaken poets from their slumbers. Since January 1st 2014 there has been one posted on a closed Facebook group site at 7.22am each Thursday. The name of the group was ’52’, and I’m writing this mainly to share our experiences with those who weren’t part of it — though I suspect that a fair number of my 52 friends will also have a peek — and maybe comment.

Jo 2

52 was the brainchild and inspiration of the poet Jo Bell, who thought that as a New Year’s Resolution it would be a good idea to invite poets to write to a suggested theme each week. The group would form an on-line community in which all could read each others’ work and make friendly and constructive comments and suggestions for improvements. Jo is Britain’s Canal Laureate, and a finer, livelier and more generous person it would be difficult to find.

If Jo thought she was introducing a cuddly kitten into poetry’s boudoir, she was in for a shock as the animal almost immediately turned into an enthusiastic elephant rampaging happily through  the room. Poets flocked to join the site, and got scribbling with enthusiasm. When the membership numbered a rather unwieldy 560, Jo closed the doors to new people. In some ways it might have been better to do this earlier in order to limit the group to a smaller number, as it was easy to miss poems because of the large number being posted; but there was no way Jo could have known in advance that it was going to be quite so popular.

It took a certain courage to post brand new poems up on the internet, knowing that some of them were very raw and unfinished, but we were all in the same boat and understood the nature of the exercise. One of the advantages of the the Facebook page being a closed group (besides limiting the number of people who would see our less than perfect efforts) was that posting there did not constitute publication, so poems could still be submitted to magazines and competitions. And they were! Many many poems that started life on 52 this last year have now entered the public domain, either in good magazines and anthologies or in the top places in prestigious competitions.

Each prompt that Jo posted had a theme to guide us into new thinking, but which we did not have to follow slavishly. Jo’s reflections on these themes were always illuminating, and she illustrated her ideas with poems from the canon. This meant that before we even put pen to paper (finger to laptop) we read some wonderful poetry by other poets down the centuries to inspire us. This, for me, was one of the most exciting aspects of Jo’s input. It would have been so easy for her to say ‘and here’s a brilliant poem by me to illustrate what I’m after’; but she never seems to have been tempted to do that.


So, we set to work on what sometimes, on a Thursday morning, seemed an impossible challenge. Here are a few of the prompts: Lost, Naming names, Exposing yourself, With friends like these, Money talks, The Unseen, The Uncertainty Principle, Macaroni, Earth from Space, Synchronicity, Sensory lack, etc, etc, etc. As you will no doubt agree, they were not necessarily simple subjects.

There were always a few ‘hurtlers’ who had written and posted something within the first hour (I managed a few times), and there were ‘lurkers’ who read and sometimes commented on poems but didn’t write much. But most of us let the ideas ferment as we got on with life, and well before the following Wednesday we had come up with something which, though far from perfect, was sufficiently finished to share. We then held our breath as hundreds of other poets read our offering. Often there would just be a ‘like’, but there was also plenty of comment. Sometimes it was just the obvious ‘have you thought of dropping the last two lines?’ or ‘are you sure you need that explanation at the beginning?’; but sometimes a different word or poetic form would be suggested.

HannahAt the end of the year, Jo moved on to other work, and one of the 52ers, Norman Hadley, agreed to keep the group going for a little longer, which is why it has continued until this week — Week 70. Still not content to let go of this warm friendly community, Hannah Linden (pictured left) has formed a group called Mint, to keep all these lovely people in touch with each other and to give a space for the flood of news about publication of 52 poems. The name Mint was chosen because that word became a favourite positive response to good poems.

There’s always a question with such activities as to whether it’s best to end with a bang or a whimper. It is true that it was quite difficult to maintain the momentum as 2015 got under way, and I suspect there’s been a certain falling-off in recent weeks. But the group was clearly not quite ready to disband at New Year, and as well as ensuring that the flow of poetry continued, the extra time has also allowed Hannah to get Mint up and running.


There have now been some opportunities for 52ers to get together in real life. Unfortunately I was not able to get to the picnic in Stratford last summer, nor will I be able to join them this year as the date coincides with the Oversteps Day at Ways with Words. However, I met several familiar faces at the Torbay Festival in the autumn, and I’ve just got back from the Wenlock Poetry Festival where 52ers were lurking behind every bush (particularly in the campsite) and  we had a very jolly group reading.

52 will not exist after this week, but many of us have got into the habit of writing fast and frequently and have made friends with whom we will stay in touch long after Jo’s 2014 New Year’s Resolution is just a distant memory.

Thank you Jo, and thank you fellow-52ers.

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Digital communication and social media

I’ve been blogging for over a year now, and enjoying Facebook for longer; so I thought I’d offer some personal reflections on the various forms of digital communication and social media.

First, an admission: I am not, and have never been, much of a telephone person. I don’t like ‘phoning people, because it seems rude to interrupt what they’re doing just because I want to grab their attention; and although I always love to hear from my nearest and dearest family or my best friends, other ‘phone calls can be irritating if I’m concentrating on work or enjoying leisure. Also, we depend on so many cues when we talk to people face to face. We see whether they are smiling or looking fierce, we detect love or coldness in their eyes, we notice if they are giving us their full attention or tapping away at a computer at the same time. All these cues are, of course, absent when our only contact is audial. I like to be able to put out my hand and touch the person I’m talking to, if the mood takes me.

Overheard (Poetry Society)

Mobile ‘phones, of course, compound my reticence. I do possess a mobile ‘phone (or a handy, as a German friend calls it), and occasionally I turn it on; but most people find me unsocially unavailable most of the time. Those who were present at my reading at the Poetry Society AGM last Autumn may recognise this photo.

Even worse than calling someone on a mobile ‘phone is texting. I deeply dislike predictive text, and find myself challenged to the point of exasperation by trying to find the correct keys to give me the punctuation I want. I am also saddened to see young people unable to lift their eyes from their mobile ‘phones, even when stepping out into busy roads or meeting socially.

Fortunately it is possible to send text messages by Skype, using a normal computer keyboard, so I do occasionally send a text to someone’s mobile by this method. Speaking of Skype, I am more than happy with this wonderful mode of communication. It gets round several of the difficulties that result from the lack of cues mentioned above, and it has absolutely transformed the accessibility and relationships of people separated by distance.

I can remember my first astonishing experience of faxing. I was in the IT department at the university when I needed to sign a contract with one of my publishers. I had a conversation with them on the telephone, then watched in amazement as the contract was spewed out of the fax machine before my eyes. It really did seem like magic in those days before all the wonders of digital communication made us blasé. But faxes, of course, had a restricted life, as new technologies tumbled over each other, challenging us to keep abreast of the developments.

Social media explained for blog

I took to email like a duck to water. This was so much more satisfactory than telephoning without knowing how convenient one’s call was likely to be to the recipient. It was like leaving a message in their pigeon-hole at work, and trusting that they would deal with it when it suited them. Strangely, I think I had one of the first emails in the country: I was editing a journal at the time, and immediately saw the potential for publishing the articles I received, without having to re-type everything. I’ve still got that original email address, though I use some others as well, for different purposes.

In the nineties I was travelling all over the world on business, and wanted to keep in touch with my elderly mother. I therefore acquired a second-hand computer for her and set about teaching her how to use email. She must have been one of the first grey-surfers in the country, and as it was all so new and different from other forms of communication, it was quite a challenge to get to grips with it. I remember her bafflement when she finally succeeded in sending a message, and then found that it was still on her computer – ‘so it couldn’t have gone!’ I was very proud of her internet prowess, and wished there were more websites for her to visit. She would have thoroughly enjoyed the infinite possibilities for surfing that we now enjoy.

Turning to more recent social media, I have to admit that with some of them I am as much at sea as my mother was with her early incursions into emails. The two that for some reason leave me completely cold are Linked in and Twitter.

LInked in

All sorts of people invite me to be Linked in with them, and quite often, rather than offend them, I comply. That tends to mean that I am connected to all sorts of people on Linked in, whom I don’t know and am never likely to meet. This network seems to pride itself on offering some sort of business advantage, but I think there are better ways to share business ideas and contacts.


But even worse than Linked in is Twitter. In a rash moment I accepted an invitation to join Twitter, and I know that millions of people swear by it. I am assured that it is an essential publicity tool for a writer; but I have to admit that, even after several exploratory incursions into the Twitter-realm, I still don’t get it. Apart from the fact that so many of the tweets appear to be completely inane, there is the huge practical problem of superfluity. Apparently the idea is to have as many Twitter contacts as possible, but that means
a) that there will be a constant and unstoppable stream of tweets arriving into one’s system and I certainly haven’t got time to read them all, and
b) no one is going to have time or inclination to read what I tweet either.
I’m sure that my sparse visits to Twitter (maybe once or twice a month) do not constitute the correct way to treat this miracle of mass communication; but the only way to see even a fraction of the tweets that are posted would be to leave it on all the time, which would mean one was constantly interrupted and would never get a decent day’s work done.


Next up the hierarchy of digital communication is Facebook, and here we come to a form of social media that, once I’d got the hang of it, I found I really rather enjoyed. It is an easy and enjoyable way of staying in touch with friends and family; but it has also turned out that many  of my Facebook friends are poets, and through Facebook we inform each other of publications and publishing possibilities and share some of our work. I enjoy some of the humour that is shared on Facebook, and also turn to it to keep me abreast of the news, particularly the news that isn’t considered important by the mass communications industry. The groups within Facebook are useful for selecting who one wants to share material with, as not everything that is posted is of interest to everyone.

Sometimes people send or accept friending invitations and then are never seen on the site again. I can’t help wondering what happens to them. Is it that they read the posts but are too shy to share anything of their own lives, or do they join and then think better of it and abstain from these jolly gatherings in the market place?

Possibly the most enjoyable of these media is Blogging, because while Facebook allows posts of more substance and interest than Twitter, a blog can be quite an extended communication. Because the blogs are longer than the quick messages that characterise the other media, it’s not possible, or advisable, to follow too many. I’ve just looked to see whose blogs I follow most assiduously, and find that they are all, like myself, writers. I suppose that’s why I find them interesting. They include Anthony Wilson, Jo Bell, Kathleen Jones and Elizabeth Stott.

These reflections are, of course, entirely personal, and I mean no disrespect to those who, for instance, enjoy Twitter or use Linked in for their business interactions. And then, most of you will probably agree that at the end of the day the best social interaction is to meet someone for a walk or a drink and talk face to face.

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