University awards Jo Bell an honorary degree for services to poetry
Jo Bell has been awarded an honorary degree of Doctor of Letters by Wolverhampton University for services to poetry, after winning plaudits and awards for her work in spearheading the 52 Project, involving weekly poetry prompts and hundreds of poets. The 52 project won a Saboteur award earlier this year, and an anthology of the project’s work has just been published by Nine Arches Press.
Poet Kathy Gee, who is deputy chair of the governors at Wolverhampton University, and a member of the 52 project, nominated Jo for the award, citing among her many achievements her mission “to use social media as a stimulus, and to raise writing standards through creative friction”.
Kathy told Write Out Loud how she felt about the 52 group: “Looking back, what I miss now is the instant feedback we got. The prompts were particularly good. I was nervous, a beginner poet – well, you’re always a beginner poet, really – but I found myself writing about things I’d never told anyone about. And I know I wasn’t alone.”
She said 52ers had learned skills such as how to criticise in a constructive way. The group still keeps in contact socially, she said, and “has tentacles in lots of countries”. Members have gone on to have poems, pamphlets and full collections published, win competitions, and go on MA creative writing courses.
She added that Wolverhampton university was “very much focused on broadening participation, so Jo’s poetical activism as evidenced by ‘52’ chimes perfectly with our aim to engage people in learning and creativity across society”.
After turning up for the ceremony in style, by boat, Jo, who is nearing the end of her spell as canal laureate, spoke of the importance of allowing yourself permission to do what you want to do, rather than trying to fit in with other people's expectations. “It's only impossible until somebody does it,” she said. To demonstrate this, perhaps, she also persuaded 900 new graduates and family members at the ceremony to sing Happy Birthday to her stepdad, Alan Gronbach.