The independent London newspaper

Poet laureate of Twitter warns joy is being taken out of social media

Brian Bilston releases first novel, Diary Of A Somebody

20 June, 2019 — By Samantha Booth

Brian Bilston before an appearance in West Hampstead on Tuesday

THE so-called “unofficial poet laureate of Twitter” said the joys of social media were becoming harder to find when he appeared at a West Hampstead bookshop.

Brian Bilston has risen to fame through online networks – he has 64,000 followers on Twitter and more on Instagram – but said the “utter fiasco” of politics had made logging on less fun.

It was standing room only at West End Lane Books on Tuesday as he launched his first novel, Diary Of A Somebody.

He has tried to keep his true identity secret after initially signing up for Twitter using a pseudonym to stop colleagues in his office job seeing what he was tweeting about.

“I used to absolutely love going on Twitter and now it’s quite difficult, it’s so politicised and the news every day is always problematic in some way, whereas it used to be a sort of joy for me,” he said. “The anonymity did suit me because I get terrified doing events like this, it was nice to hide there on social media.”

One of his most famous poems, Refugees, was written in 2016 against the backdrop of refugees drowning in the Mediterranean. It reads as anti-refugee one way, but its true meaning is revealed when read backwards.

“It came from seeing comments on social media, comments so devoid of empathy,” he said. “I just could not quite understand how people could have that kind of reaction.”

At earlier readings, he would quirkily pretend to be an English Literature academic analysing Brian’s poetry.

“That’s how I’ve got around the anonymity in the past but I’ve decided to come out,” said Mr Bilston. “It’s to do with the new book really, as it gets quite complicated. Occasionally I’d do some readings as the English academic and people would say ‘oh it’s a shame that Brian wasn’t there’. Most people would get the joke, but some people were disappointed there was no real Brian there. It’s a bit more straightforward for everyone.”


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