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Read All About It: '52' by Jo Bell

Posted on November 23, 2015 by Yen-Yen Lu

At the beginning of 2014, Jo Bell launched the 52 project, a series of poetry prompts with one simple objective: write one poem a week, every week, for a year. The response was incredible. Drawing on prompts from the project’s official blog, thousands of people joined in with the project, creating an immense network of poets who supported each other’s work throughout the project. Some of these poets went on to have their work published and have even won literary prizes, including Joanne Key who won second place in the National Poetry Competition 2014 and Bell herself, whose second collection Kith was also published by Nine Arches Press this year. 

52 collates all the prompts from the project into one book and features contemporary poems alongside each prompt. Challenging the reader to get inspired by the unusual and the unusually ordinary (a doorway, for example) this book is truly a unique poetic expedition.

What were your reasons for starting the 52 project?

I wanted to give something back to the poetry community. I've been very lucky in recent years to have a lot of support, good audiences, people who've encouraged me in my work. I saw that there are hundreds, even thousands of people who are genuinely intimidated by the idea of sharing their poetry, and who are trapped in writing at a superficial level rather than digging deep. Above all, a lot of poetry writers don't take seriously the need to read good poetry if they hope to write it. So I wanted to give those writers some support and a focus, to keep developing their own work; and a source of good contemporary poetry to show them how different poets can tackle the same subject.

Where did you look for inspiration for prompts?             

Dangerous word, 'inspiration.' It makes writing sound other-worldly and mysterious - as if you have to wait for the butterfly Muse to land on the end of your nose, and jot down the ideas she brings. In fact, writing poetry is a question of observing and interrogating your own experience. The prompts are just fifty-two different ways of paying attention to the world. You can start writing from an overheard phrase, a high street doorway, the loose change in your pocket or a childhood nickname. If anything, 52 is a kind of anti-inspiration book. It shows that you can start a poem with anything, you don't need to wait for inspiration. I hope it also shows that you have to go further than autobiography; a poem has to interest the reader as well as the writer. The prompts are the sort of prompts I would like to have found myself, when I was first writing.

In what ways will 52 help people start or continue writing?

It's quite a forceful book, in a good-humoured way. It should feel as if people are being gently nudged by a writerly friend to keep going. The prompts will serve each writer in a different way. Many of the online prompts that people rely on are two-dimensional - they say "look at an object and write about it", rather than encouraging people to use the object as a point of access to their own story, their own memory banks and attitudes. The 52 prompts are a really deep, exploratory way of taking your writing further and making it an indelible habit. But they never lose sight of the fact that writing should be a deep pleasure.

52 is available to order on our website now.

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