Have you ever read one of those books you think is so brilliant that you want to tell everyone you meet how wonderful it is and how they must read it; including accosting total strangers in the street? That happened to me recently when I came across the poetry of Brian Bilston. You might ask where I’ve been – late to the party as usual – as he’s been around for long enough to earn the moniker of ‘the poet laureate of Twitter’. However, it was only when he made an appearance on one of the Sky Arts programmes covering the Cheltenham Festival of Literature that I realised that I had been missing something really special…

Bilston keeps a low profile and describes himself as “a poet clouded in the pipe smoke of mystery”, known for “his penchant for tank tops, his enjoyment of Vimto, his dislike of Jeremy Clarkson.” His first poetry collection “You Took the Last Bus Home” was issued via Unbound in 2016 and a recent fiction/poetry collection “Diary of a Somebody” has also gained much praise. So of course I had to track down the poetry collection, and I’ve been reading it and loving it for the last week or so.

One of my books of the year, for sure! 😀

Brian Bilston’s poems deal with the stuff of everyday life; he’ll write short verses playing with words and puns; or longer works referencing everything from mobile phone chargers to book groups to USB drives. Some are just out and out clever and funny; and Bilston is not afraid to experiment with form, presenting poems as scrabble boards, spreadsheets and venn diagrams! However, as I read on, I realised that there was more to Bilston than just a smart versifier. Beneath the surface, these poems have much to say, and plenty of really quite deep comments on the modern world and the society in which we live. In fact, Bilston continues to share his work in Twitter, and one of his pithiest is called “Hold my hand while we jump off this cliff”, a pointed analogy for Brexit if I ever heard one.

As usual, I don’t want to pick out favourites as there wasn’t a dud in the book. But I’ll mention a few poems that were particularly special. Short works like “The Power of a Homophone”, “The Unbearable Lightness of Boing” and “Robert Frost’s Netflix Choice” deliver their punchlines smartly, like an actual physical punch that catches you unawares. However, there is one poem which stands above them all and that’s “Refugees”, which I believe has deservedly been published separately on its own. It’s an incredibly clever and thought-provoking piece of work which just goes to show that there are more ways than one of looking at the world and that we need to adjust our thinking to make the place better for everyone.

So I finished reading this collection of the opinion that Brian Bilston is a genius. His poems are witty, clever and profound in equal measure; there’s a real skill involved in keeping that balance and making you laugh and think at the same time. His cleverness with words is quite breathtaking at times, his puns are laugh-out-loud, but he really skewers the oddity of life, the things we have to contend with every day and the out-and-out strangeness of living in our modern world. I could quote any number of poems from the book, but I won’t because a) I want you to go out and read it, and b) Bilston is generous enough to share his work regularly online, so you can find plenty of his poems quite easily and have a look to see if it’s for you. Me, I’m hooked; I haven’t enjoyed a book so much in a long time, and “Diary of a Somebody” is most definitely going to be on my Christmas list! 😀