Jo Bell is a poet working across the UK. For many years an archaeologist, she is now the Director of National Poetry Day. She has taken part in many commissions and residencies, manages projects, programmes festivals and events, including Ledbury Poetry Festival 2011. She edits books, journals and ezines, runs workshops and residential breaks for writers across the UK and in France and is running an online course for The Poetry School in the Autumn called Excavations. She speaks to us here about how she does it all.
You worked as an archaeologist for many years, what made you give that up to work with poetry?
The two jobs have a lot in common, and quite a few people cross over in one direction or the other. They are both about looking for meanings below the surface of everyday life. They are both about the ideas that are big enough to outlive us, big enough to cross cultures and centuries. I’m still involved in archaeology/ writing projects, like Dig the Abbey at Polesworth in Worcestershire where poets and archaeologists are working together.
You’re incredibly active on the poetry scene. You manage poetry projects, write your own poems, work as an editor and teacher and are the Director of National Poetry Day. How DO you find the time?Oh, and there’s the small matter of setting up a new pamphlet press and two new festivals as well. I could pretend that I’m super-efficient but actually a) I’m a sucker for punishment b) I work long days and drive a lot c) I spend a lot of time on social networks/ email. The fact is, I love working with poetry. I love working with poets. My social and professional lives bleed into one another all the time, but almost everything takes priority over my own poetry. So my working life is just an elaborate evasion of the real business of writing.
Being so involved with numerous different strands and avenues of poetry, do you feel hopeful for the future of it?Poetry, like any other kind of writing, will thrive as long as people have things to say to one another and want to say them truthfully.
What are you working on at the moment?
Preparing for National Poetry Day (October 4th, theme STARS). I’m planning a tour of my poetry/ storytelling show Riverlands with Jo Blake Cave, and putting together proposals for new national projects. My main writing project is the most exciting thing I’ve worked on for years: a collaboration with Martin Malone. We’re writing a book-length sequence of poems called Fireships, for publication in 2013 or 2014. Working together makes us write differently, and because we each want to live up to the other’s hopes we are being ruthless with ourselves and with each other. It’s an immensely rich creative experience with its own challenges and rewards.
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