Jo Bell is the Director of National Poetry Day, our partners on the Piccadilly Circus Screen Challenge brief. She tells us about her journey from archaeologist to poet, and explains why you shouldn't be afraid to approach people for help...
Full name/job title:
Jo Bell, Director of National Poetry Day.
Please give us an overview of your average day:
Ha! There is no average day, but much of my work consists of phone calls and emails, meetings with partners like the Poetry Society or the Scottish Poetry Library, and conversations with our PR people. NPD is a national campaign which enables other people to publicise their poetry events all over the UK, so a lot of my work is about communicating, encouraging others to tell us about their great poetry work.
What is the most common misconception about your job?
That it is done by a big team of people in an office in London. It’s done by me, two days per week, from my office in Cheshire and with strong support from our PR team at Brunswick – also this year, with a great deal of help from our sister project Winning Words.
What is the hardest thing about your role?
Balancing all the different demands on my time and giving each one its proper priority.
When did you decide what you wanted to do with your life and how did you set out to achieve it?
Well – at first I decided to be an archaeologist, and I did that for 18 years. Then I realised that writing poetry was not just a hobby but a part of a wider poetic life I had to acknowledge. I started working as a volunteer helper at Ledbury Poetry Festival, and taking on contracts to manage or run small scale poetry events. After four or five years of that, I was offered the NPD job and accepted with pleasure. It’s a brilliant, creative way to work and I enjoy it very much.
What can you do to get a head start?
Don’t be afraid to get in touch with people you want to work for or with. Poetry is a small world and a personal approach is often the best way. Also – use social networks intelligently. Sign up to follow the threads of key players, and don’t just tweet your own projects or gigs. Use Twitter and Facebook generously to promote all the events of your poetry community, and not only yours – that way you will be taken seriously as someone who can help others, which is very endearing to other poetry folk.
Could you describe the creative element to your job?
The creative element to the NPD job is in devising themes, ideas, approaches to potential partners – and finding new ways to use familiar tropes like the poet in residence or our educational plans. In the rest of my working life, I am a freelance poetry practitioner and there is even more scope to devise new projects and working relationships.
What’s the one thing you wish you had known at the start of your career that you know now?
How willingly people will help you; one can assume that poets will be stand-offish or unhelpful, but most will either help you out, or point you to someone who will.
Which organisations/websites/resources do you think would be useful for people entering your industry?
The Scottish Poetry Library site is wonderful; the Poetry Society and local/regional organisations like Time to Read, StAnza, Ledbury Poetry Festival and Writing West Midlands can all be found easily on Twitter or Facebook. But key individuals are important too – people like Katy Evans-Bush, Chris Hamilton Emery or others whom you find interesting are the most important to follow.
In association with National Poetry Day, we're offering IdeasTap members the chance to have their visual work screened on the world-famous Piccadilly Circus billboard. Apply before Wednesday 15 August. National Poetry Day is on 4 October 2012.
Find out more about Jo Bell.
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