Hi, folks! Today, we’re hosting a quick Q&A with author and poet Brian Bilston. Read on to find out what we talked about…
Hi, Brian! First up, please tell us how you’d describe your style.
Hi! I tend to write in a straightforward, uncomplicated way. It’s not the kind of poetry which needs several readings before you discover the meaning held within; I’m not that clever. Most poems are meant to amuse in some way – whether they do, I don’t know. And I’m always interested in playing with form; that could be the shape of the words on paper or presenting poems in places you wouldn’t expect to find them, such as an Excel spreadsheet or a Venn diagram.
What’s behind your decision to use a pseudonym? I’ve seen you described as the poet laureate of Twitter, but your use of a pseudonym makes me think more of poetry’s equivalent of Banksy. Do you think that’s a fair comparison?
It was never part of a grand plan. I didn’t join Twitter to use it as a platform to share poems. But I joined up using a pseudonym because it gave me a freedom to tweet about whatever I might like without consequence – that it provided a screen, so my manager at work couldn’t see what I was up to, was also helpful. But having inadvertently established it, I rather relish the anonymity. I’m not a naturally outgoing type; the idea of performing my poems in front of an audience fills me with horror.
The Banksy comparison only works insofar as Brian carries a certain air of mystery. But Brian is not half as interesting.
What inspires you? Where do you get your ideas from?
Anything and everything – but generally it’s the absurdity of everyday life. Whether that’s the crime of a misused semi-colon, the difficulty of folding a fitted sheet, the ludicrousness of a spork or the election of Donald Trump.
Social media itself also provides an endless stream of topics, arguments, reflections, and I often find it a richer source of ideas than simply staring out into the distance or writing poems about tree blossom.
How long have you been writing for? Can you tell us about some of your earliest memories of writing?
I’ve been writing poems – sporadically – for twenty years. But I only began to share some of these three or four years ago. They were often personal poems – written purely for me or for people close to me.
Do you think that Brian Bilston could exist without social media?
Probably not. It’s allowed me to find an audience directly. It strikes me as unlikely that the kind of poems I write would get published in poetry magazines and other publications – or receive any attention at all. That can seem a rather closed coterie, and one that doesn’t readily embrace poems which purport to be humorous.
Also, given my qualms about performance, it seems unlikely that Brian would have bubbled up to the surface on the spoken word scene either.
What was the last book that you read and what did you think of it?
I’ve been reading Patti Smith’s Just Kids, which is essentially a love story about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe. I liked it a lot. I enjoy reading about unconventional lives because I secretly wish that I had it within me to have had one of those, too.
Do you read other poets (both classic and contemporary)? If so, who are some of your favourites?
I love those poets who wrote in service of the Grand Tradition of late twentieth century English Literature GCSE and A Level examination papers: Owen, Eliot, Larkin, Auden. Of contemporary poets, Simon Armitage, Kate Tempest and Jonathan Edwards are real favourites. But in search of laughs, I turn to Roger McGough, Ogden Nash, Wendy Cope, Ian MacMillan, Ivor Cutler and Tim Key.
What’s the best bit of writing advice that you’ve ever received?
I’m not very good at discussing my writing with other people. It’s a purely private act for me and so I don’t get much advice come my way (and I probably go out of my way to avoid it). But there’s one consistent refrain I get on social media which is about the constant grammatical errors which appear in my poems. So if the real me could give Brian Bilston some advice it would be: “Please check your poems more closely for mistakes before you send them out on Twitter.” There’s nothing worse than receiving the somewhat smug response that there’s a typo in line five.
If you could go out for dinner with any three authors, living or dead, who would you pick?
Dylan Thomas, Dorothy Parker and Ivor Cutler would make for an evening of lyricism, wit and absurdity – until I collapse under the table, that is.
You’re pretty big on the internet. So have you ever had problems with ‘haters’? If so, how did you deal with it? And if not, why do you think that is?
Yes, from time to time. It’s inevitable – particularly when I’ve shared poems expressing a political viewpoint. One poem about the Second Amendment led to a lot of vicious feedback from gun-toting types in the American South. I do my best to ignore it – typically there’s little to be gained by responding. I try to put that kind of abuse into the context of Twitter as a whole, where I’ve been lucky to encounter a whole community of funny, kind, talented people – and where I still discover new delights daily.
Thanks again to Brian Bilston for stopping by SocialBookshelves.com. Be sure to give him a follow on Facebook and Twitter and to check out You Took the Last Bus Home, his book of poetry.