I’ve recently started a new project on Instagram called #realtime_notes – a series of poems/sketches that respond to current events, usually relating to top headlines or breaking news, with life events woven in. You can follow it all at instagram.com/nickasbury
It began by accident as I was on my own in the pub and felt like writing something – at the time, the news of the attacks in Barcelona had just broken. Since then, I’ve been posting at least once a day, and have recently passed the 50 mark.
The main register is a mix of the mundane/personal and political/global, for example pondering identity politics while bringing in the milk (above)...
...or reading more about the Barcelona attacks while sitting around at soft play.
With most of them, I refer specifically to breaking news or top headlines on the BBC, Guardian, NY Times, Twitter and elsewhere, basically as a way of forcing myself to write and publish them quickly, and ‘prove’ their realtime-ness.
For example, I started writing one while following the Liverpool match one Saturday and had to make sure I posted it before there was any change in scoreline (an advantage of the ‘Notes’ format is that it time-stamps each poem).
Most are written quickly – something like 20 mins – although the idea often brews in my head for a while before that. A few are more crafted and take longer, but still with a time pressure to get it out there before it feels like yesterday’s news.
For example, there was this densely rhyming one about Trump, Hunt and Hawking.
Or this recent anagram poem about the hurricanes, where the words in the right-hand column rearrange their counterparts in the left (an exception that definitely took longer).
Others are ultra-fast, like scribbling down phrases from an ad break.
Or a series of haikus responding to transfer news on deadline day (scroll to view – won’t make sense unless you’re a football fan).
There are obvious downsides to writing like this – they say 95% of writing is editing, and it’s more like 99% with poetry. There is still editing involved in these, but you lose the sustained craft and hard-won quality that comes with most poetry.
On the plus side, you gain a certain crackle of spontaneity and urgency. I’ve always liked poems and songs that respond quickly to events – I remember reading about Woody Guthrie being able to pick up a newspaper in the morning and have a few topical songs written by lunchtime. It feels like poetry should be able to do that, and platforms like Instagram make it more possible.
It also feels in tune with these times, where we live out our personal lives against a permanent backdrop of big breaking news (like those golfers pictured recently with the burning hillside behind them). The news generally breaks via the phone, which is where the poems are written – I’ve always liked the Notes feature, and it feels natural to use it here.
I’m not sure how long it will last, but I hope there will be a cumulative effect over time, where the poems are so stuffed with real-world references that they become an interesting chronicle to look back on in future (or maybe they’ll make no sense at all).
Anyway, it comes in a spirit of trying something and seeing where it goes, even if it ends up at a dead end – you can follow along at instagram.com/nickasbury
And while you're at it, for proper visual stuff, follow instagram.com/sueasbury