This week we have a guest post from poet Georgia Bartlett-McNeil. Georgia is an Edinburgh-based poet who maintains a strong online presence for her creative writing through Tumblr (her blog, A Poet’s World, is here). In this post she shares her experience of gaining confidence to share her writing publicly with the support of her online community, as well as how developing an online platform for her writing has been a fundamental part of her creative practice. Enjoy!
Technology has become a huge aid in this revival of poetry linking poets from all over the world together despite distance, time zone and background. However, like most poets emerging in this new age, I starting writing the old fashioned way: with a pen or pencil (more than not it was the latter – the thirteen year old me had an astonishingly short supply of pens), and a notebook kept under lock and key, or, if you’re me, in the underwear drawer. Mainly because no one would dare to look in there, and I certainly did not want my, *cough*, poetry, to be shared with the world.
It wasn’t until aged sixteen that I decided to share some of my work with people other than my closest friends – many of which didn’t appreciate poetry for the art form it is and were relatively uninterested, like most people that I knew at the time. So, wishing to gain both a more neutral and more general perspective on my work (as a lot of my work was, and still is, very personal), I decided to take it to an internet platform introduced to me by a friend, called FictionPress, and it was there that I got my first taste of a proper writing community. Using this forum, I was able to meet people from different parts of the UK and overseas, make a couple of friends, and watch my writing walk its first, tentative steps in the eyes of the general literary populace. Through the new connections and writers I met and read, and the friends I made on the site, my writing was able to grow in ways that I couldn’t have realised it was able to had I continued to work alone. Although FictionPress is one of the smaller and lesser known sites on the internet – mainly due to the fact that it is also used for original fiction as well as poetry – and its link with its very popular sibling site FanFiction often shoving it out of the spotlight, the impact made on my writing there was, although incredibly necessary and fun, limited. So after almost three years on the site and with encouragement from a friend, I took my writing to Tumblr.
Tumblr is and was a completely different ballgame to FictionPress. Obviously it is at the forefront of the blogging industry, providing a brilliant platform for artists, musicians, photographers, and, of course, writing. With over 300 million unique monthly visitors to the site, there is a much bigger community to access and become a part of, including communities specific to those who write poetry, prose and stories, paint and draw, take pictures, or pretty much any other outlet under the sun, provided you put in the hours and actively seek to grow. A lot of people use Tumblr as a creative outlet or a place to reblog pretty things, like inspirational quotes, original poetry and Disney gifs, but regardless of how each individual user makes use of their space, it is a huge market to aim at, and literally millions of new people to meet.
Tumblr is not just for the average person either, with many companies, celebrities and YouTube personalities having blogs of their own, either for use as their own space, or as another additional network with which to connect with fans, often used in conjunction with Twitter and Instagram. Some famous faces include Nike, Buzzfeed, Button Poetry, Beyoncé, Taylor Swift, Neil Hilborn and Andrea Gibson, and Rose Dix, to name a select few.
I am lucky enough to say that through my use of Tumblr and my continued association with the Tumblr Writing Community, I have seen my blog following rise to over 1,000 in recent weeks. Poetry, by nature, can be a particularly solitary activity, with work being particularly personal for poets. Once of the things that I certainly feel has been a steroid to the muscle that is poetry (you can tell I’m a biologist by trade, can’t you?) is the sense of community and the safeness I feel when sharing the things I have written on Tumblr. Some may see this as ironic, as we all know what a dangerous place the internet can be, what with Trojan horses and trolls running rampant. The community, or rather, the friend group, that I am part of is a great protection mechanism from that. Another upside of having friends is, by the mechanics of Tumblr, the reblog system – meaning if someone reblogs something, it boosts the chances of people seeing it, hence widening your following.
Like I say, I am fortunate enough to have made friends on Tumblr, some of which are as close as Oxford, South Wales and Holland, and others as far away as Ohio, North Carolina, Florida and California in the US, and Canada and Australia. When I look back five years and consider how difficult it was for me previously to share poetry with the people I knew, let alone people I didn’t know, it’s funny to call people I’ve met but am yet to meet my friends. Being writers themselves, they are excellent sources for opinions, and they are never afraid to let me know what they think –whether it’s a message telling me just how awesome something is, or ways in which I can improve. I’m happy to say that, of late, it’s been more messages telling me the former! I have even been fortunate to partake in collaborations with some of them too, and this has been a great way to get to know different writing styles and techniques, as well as the differences that come with language use and distance.
Something I certainly feel has been a driving force in my poetic life, as I am sure it is with all writers and artists, has been the reading of other people’s work, or, in this specific case, the watching of spoken word on YouTube. For the longest time, I watched and listened to poets like Megan Falley, Shane Koyczan, Neil Hilborn, Andrea Gibson, Michael Lee and Ollie Schminkey with a mixture of awe and envy – mostly envy, I must admit; I wished I could write and perform as well as they could! It is only recently that I have had the confidence to attempt to take to the stage myself, and again, the sense of community I have found among the friends I’ve made – Katie here being one of them! – has been a hugely positive by-product.
Poetry means something slightly different to every poet that dares to write or perform, and the Internet and social media like Tumblr, WordPress, FictionPress (or whichever forum one chooses to utilise) are great ways to find like-minded people. In truth, without the friends I have made and the work that I have read or heard whilst using social media, I may never have made it to the point of having enough confidence to even attend an open mic night, let alone get up on the stage. Now that I have that confidence, I have the privilege of performing alongside and amongst some truly phenomenal poets – again, Katie being one of them! – and gaining even more inspiration from them, their work and their stories. I guess, to finish this essay of a blog post, I’ll use a quote that I coined several years ago; “we are evolution at work, my friends.” For a long time, I convinced myself that there was no “scene” for poetry, and that the reason none of my friends liked it was because it was a weird thing to like. However, social media and the Internet certainly changed that perspective, and continues to do so every day. Yes, it can seem like a bit of a cesspool at times, but if you’re prepared to jump in, hold your nose and take a dive, you could possibly find some of the best sources of inspiration, friends, or community that exists anywhere.
Follow Georgia’s Tumblr here!
This website is designed as a sort of community space for new ideas, discussions, and reflections on the spoken word scene in Scotland, and creative practice more generally. If you are interested in writing a short post and having it featured here, please get in touch! —Katie