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Taking the last bus home after nights like these! Brian Bilston wows big audience at the New Poetry Shack in London

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The hugely popular “poet laureate of Twitter” Brian Bilston has always been somewhat of a mystery man, keen to obscure his true identity and limiting his public appearances. He does seem to be getting out and about a bit more in 2023, however. Heather Moulson was among an adoring audience of around 200, according to the organisers - and we have no reason to doubt them - at the New Poetry Shack in Islington, north London, to hear his poetry. Here’s her account of the evening:


This was my first visit to The New Poetry Shack. Torres Road in Islington was a small dark street akin to David Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust album cover. With one lonely light from the door, the queue outside the Candid Arts building was vast. Understandably so, as Brian Bilston would be appearing that night. I was curious to see the phenomenon known as the “Poet Laureate of Twitter” perform live. He doesn’t do it that often. 

However, we had some unique poetry to come before the man himself. Opened vibrantly by the charming MC Jack Shamash, we had the joy of Brett Van Toen and his potato!  Such razor sharp wit. Then the very gifted Cheryl McLennan stepped up, and her pieces were full of funny, gritty and vivid detail. We had really struck gold. Unfortunately Violet Malice could not appear after all as advertised so the wonderful Jude Simpson came on and gave us a profound account of motherhood. So beautifully done, and followed by open micers that displayed a huge array of talent and variety.  

The house erupted when Mr Bilston emerged. Reading  from his latest collection Days Like These: an alternative guide to the year in 366 poems, he shared the era before 1991 when the world wide web was devised by Tim Berners-Lee. A blissful turn back of the clock – or was it? As he pointed out in his clever piece, if you wanted followers then, you had to join a religious cult. And if you wanted a book, you went to a bookshop - which you can still actually do now!  Ingenious and true observations, followed by ‘You Took the Last Bus Home’ (“Don’t know how / you got it through the door”) and ‘Frisbee’, as he slickly mixed new and older poems.  A clever skit on 30 Days Hath September, that used to be on the back of my school exercise book, had the room falling about. 

From his latest book again, he picked the date 13 March, which was Open an Umbrella Indoors Day, turning one’s back on popular superstitions without a single scar. Or so he thought, because really bad things happened anyway, eg Brexit, and Trump. (“How foolish we are / to ignore the old stories.”)  Bilston also pondered on James Bond wielding a hoover and doing laundry.  After a surreal and witty version of the final Famous Five books, Bilston reflected on the writer and poet Kipling making “exceedingly good stories”.  It was a kind of wit that flew around the room. 

After ‘Animals Can Fly’, the mood changed as Bilston read his moving piece ‘Refugees’. It’s a poem that can be read two ways, from top to bottom, and from bottom to top, revealing the two sides to the story. As the final line says, “the world can be looked at another way”. We simply appreciated the poet and his insight in a new way.  

Concluding with a rewrite of that children’s classic The Very Hungry Caterpillar, we were in fits as he read his version of ‘The Very Angry Caterpillar’. All too soon, Brian Bilston stepped down and I found I had arrived as a curious observer and was leaving as a real convert.  He is due to appear at the Wolverhampton Literature Festival this weekend, and is worth catching. Highly recommended.  

◄ Second Glance: Ron Scowcroft, Oversteps Books

Warm up with words at new poetry night in the north-east ►

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Julian (Admin)

Thu 9th Feb 2023 12:05

Thanks, Lee. It is really useful getting other participants' reports on reviewed events, embellishing the review itself. It sounds like one of those 'you had to have been there' gigs. And you were not only there, you helped create the electric atmosphere. Cheers.

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Lee Campbell

Sat 4th Feb 2023 17:17

Great review. I was there (and performed on the open mic). The atmosphere was electric.

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