‘A huge contribution to Write Out Loud’: Julian Jordon recalls the generosity, enthusiasm and knowledge of Paul Blackburn
I struggle to believe that our pal, our big, bold, barmy, Bohemian brother-in-arms has left the stage, so abruptly, so prematurely. Paul Blackburn made a huge, unique, contribution to the development of Write Out Loud in its formative years, combining his education (Ruskin, Oxford), skills (computer programming), knowledge (especially poetry, but much else besides), and experiences of his varied past (musician, entertainer, impresario and, most importantly, all-round-great-guy-to-be-with).
He was no saint, and would not want to be painted as such, for all his Salesian schooling. His poetry performances were often tongue-in-cheek - witness where he claimed to have placed a toaster - and always going for the shock value, something to jolt us all into, well, wakefulness perhaps. He loved entertaining, yet to think that was all of him would be a mistake.
He quickly grasped the guiding principles behind Write Out Loud, how local groups were a means of giving a voice to the otherwise voiceless, a route to self-expression, sharing their words with others in a supportive ambience.
And he was generous to a fault, the huge number of hours he put into the work he did with Write Out Loud, the distances he and I travelled to support groups across the north - and Dave [Morgan] in his poetry bus - were phenomenal. And he always bought his round, perhaps most importantly.
Above all, it was his grasp of the needs of the website and how to manage it, how it could interact with individuals, that made such a huge contribution to Write Out Loud's early development.
That early work on the website was itself as much an act of creativity as the work it published. The fact that we had our own web developers and programmers, in the form of my son Michael and his boyhood pal, Paul Emberson, meant the building of the site was a fascinating, exciting, iterative process. Paul thoroughly enjoyed our regular development meetings in various parts of the country, developers on one side posing questions, Paul (Blackburn) and I on the other - except that Paul wore two hats, his developer skills enabling him to act as translator for me at times.
Those sessions were magical, creative and exciting, Paul as enthused as, if not more than, the others. We brainstormed ideas, created new functions and features just to see what happened, set up new tools and pages, just to let users play, see where it took them. Through it all, without Paul's enthusiastic, insightful and wise contributions, I am not sure Write Out Loud would have lasted these 18 years.
I found it very difficult to put pen to paper for this. How do you capture the life of someone who was larger than it? Someone who was always worth spending time with: always fun, always helpful, always willing to do something for the once-secret writers who emerged blinking into the open-mic daylight.
He appreciated them, and they him, as did we all. He will long be remembered with a sigh and a smile. On behalf of our users, thank you, and goodnight, Paul.
Oh, and I hope you didn't take the toaster with you.
Picture shows Julian Jordon and Paul Blackburn at a poetry night in Wigan, in the early years of Write Out Loud