52: a bucketful of permission…? 

Review: ‘The Very Best of 52’ Edited by Jonathan Davidson, Jo Bell & Norman Hadley. Nine Arches Press, July 2015.


bucket_and_spade-1I have a confession to make when it comes to poetry … I’m a bit of a slow reader. Generally collections of poetry aren’t that long, but it usually takes me quite a while to work through a whole book of poems.  I tend to dip in and manage to read one or two poems at best and then need to stop for a while.

I find the same thing with visual art – I’m not one of these people who can readily hoover up three galleries in a day.  When you find yourself walking briskly past a Caravaggio with barely a sideways glance, I think it’s probably time to stop. Actually, the stopping ideally happens in front of the painting. But long enough in front of enough art, and I’m simply done for the day. If my brain is a bucket, it must just be less like the kind that they use in open cast mining, and more like the sort you take to the beach…

b008fc989b-52 Anthology Cover WEBSo much for confessional – there is a point to this!  I’ve just finished reading ‘The Very Best of 52′ a collection put together by Jonathon Davidson, Jo Bell, and Norman Hadley. Reading this was quite a rare experience.  I found that I had to hurry back to cram more of these beach-combed treasures into my head as quickly as I could.  If I wasn’t actually sprinting as I read, certainly many of the poems here made my heart skip.

’52’ was a remarkable project conceived by poet Jo Bell at the end of 2013. For each week of the following year she planned to blog a poetry prompt to encourage anyone who wanted to to take up the simple resolution “Write a poem. Start Now. Keep Going.”  On Facebook supportive and creative group of new writers came together to make and discuss new poems written in response to Jo’s prompts. The group rapidly grew, and ’52’ took off.

The ’52’ project has produced many things, not least talents revealed, prizes won, a community formed, lives transformed, and many wonderful poems. As a codicil comes this collection, published as a crowdfunded project. The book gathers one poem from the project for each of the 52 themes Jo put forward during 2014. As a collection I found these to be a marvellous read. The poems deliver an intensity and honesty of writing that positively shines. Here are strong emotional connections, many laughs, some genuine pain and grief, and a rich variety of inventive use of language.

Part of what ’52’ was turned out to be about was the act of ‘permission’ to write. The idea that many people feel that they need to be given ‘permission’ to write poetry – to call themselves a poet. Jo Bell has spoken about this frequently since, and has made a video exploring her ideas about ‘permission’, which is well worth a look.

So ‘The Very Best of 52’ comes with a firm recommendation from me. It’s not just a book of engaging poetry, it’s something to encourage all of us who want to try write, and want to try to write better.

‘The Very Best of 52’ ISBN-10: 0993120172:




About stevedsmart

Steve Smart is a poet and visual artist who also has experience in information design. View all posts by stevedsmart

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