The poet laureate of Twitter Brian Bilston creates four new poems from Adobe Stock images


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For Found in Adobe Stock, It’s Nice That has commissioned creatives to explore the world of Adobe Stock’s collection to make a new series of works. The project asks each creative to dive into the depths of Adobe Stock as a starting point, and then devise new short stories or create new worlds from chosen images. We follow each creative’s journey on their stock narrative endeavours and unpack how they used their individual findings to make innovative final pieces.

There is arguably nothing better than reading a good lol on your commute home after a long day at work. It’s even better if the thing you’re reading is cleverly crafted with a rhyming couplet here and there. It may well be that what cheers you up after a miserable day is a poem from Brian Bilston, the so-called “poet laureate of Twitter” whose words have been peppered throughout social media to the delight of poetry (and non-poetry) fans alike. His snappy verses may have been the cause of your first chuckle this morning, or a diversion from last night’s potentially catastrophic scroll hole of one cat meme after another.

There is little known about this literary wordsmith and his real identity is shrouded in mystery. Despite this, we still managed to pin him down for a new commission, writing four new poems starting from an image in the Adobe Stock library. Amidst the run-up to the release of his latest book Diary of a Somebody, Brian’s latest poetic endeavours sprouted from summer themed Adobe Stock images, “for no other reason other than that summer is coming and it was a sunny day when I suddenly thought, ‘Oh! Summer would be an appropriate subject,’” Brian tells us.

As someone who started writing poems as a response to what he saw on Twitter, the commission presented Brian with a rather different challenge. Having never written a poem as a direct response to an image before, Brian found the task at hand to be a new and refreshing approach. It even offered a change to his process that was first borne out of frustration while “stuck in my bedroom writing the odd angry poem to myself,” he adds.

After deciding on the theme of summer, Brian went onto jot down a few headlines which fused said topic with some personal associations. Then, he searched through Adobe Stock’s library, looking out for the images that directly spoke to him and stirred the poetic juices. Using the images as a way to “visually represent the words that were already forming in [his] head,” the images form another layer of visceral communication to his ever-entertaining verse.

By forming a mutual relationship between Stock image and poem, Brian’s summery poems embody the highs, lows and annoyances of Britain’s stickiest season. Fully embracing the creative’s way of working – brief and all – Brian says on this new approach: “I think it’s good to have things like deadlines and it can be quite helpful to have a destination that you need to reach.” For Brian, the decidedness of the theme and output proved to be a relief and eradicated that frustrating process of “looking out the window and thinking ‘what should I write next?’” As in fact, having a bit more focus can be a really helpful thing.

The idea for The Problem of Writing Poetry on the Beach, Brian’s first Adobe Stock inspired poem, originates from one of the more obvious associations of summer activities; the beach. “I do really enjoy the beach and sandcastles and running around,” says Brian, “but I struggle with the graininess of it all, like when there are still bits of the beach stuck on you weeks later.” Selecting a Stock image that adequately depicts this sandy issue, Brian then went onto creatively problem solve how a poem might also represent this granular matter.

“Obviously it’s difficult to represent individual grains of sand in an actual poem, but then I came up with the idea that the actual word itself might just be lurking in the poem.” Consequently, he strategically sprinkles the word “sand” into the poem, additionally shoehorning in sand-based pun after sun-based pun to the reader’s delight.

The atmospheric poem certainly does take you back to that annoying feeling of sand in between every nook and cranny. For Brian, finding exactly the right kind of beach photo was integral to this transportive feeling. “There were almost too many photos when I searched for the word ‘beach,’" explains Brian. And, after toying with the idea to write a poem based on crudely written letters in the sand, Brian eventually decided against it, settling on the more direct sand-pun route.

“I do like eating ice cream” says Brian on the topic of his next poem, “I could probably eat it all day. So I had this idea of writing a poem about someone eating a lot of ice cream.” Flicking through the reservoir of ice cream-based Stock images and the profusion of flavours that go with it, Brian finally decided on an image of the iconic 99 flake, “because that’s the ultimate ice cream.”

Escorting the reader to a childlike nostalgia filled with tinkling ice cream truck music and raspberry sauce, The Ice Cream War details the overwhelming excitement that comes with ice cream as a child, followed by the inconsolable disappointment when it drops on the floor. Throughout the poem, he lists the classics from mint choc-chip to rum and raisin as this inundation of flavour choices reflected the scope of images presented in the Adobe Stock library.

As he begins to write a poem, images start to form in Brian’s mind detailing his current train of thought. “So even if I don’t have a specific image to reference right in front of me, I tend to picture things that could inform the layout of the poem. This also helps because it allows me to conjure up certain imagery that I want to evoke through the poem as well.” And if the direction of a poem changes while it’s being written, similar to how any kind of creative process tends to change over time, in turn, the images in Brian’s mind similarly evolve.

“Festival Line Up probably came out of a bitter experience," says Brian on his most designed poem for the commission. “The idea came from an idealised version of what a music festival might be, but when you get there, there’s this horror; and it’s usually weather-based.” Drawing on another quintessential aspect of British summer, the music festival, Brian narrates the festival experience through a series of band names on a festival line up.

“I’m actually really pleased with some of the band names I came up with! They’d probably stand up quite well in real life,” says Brian on the likes of “Carsick” and “Yurt Hire”. But as he is not the most “technologically able person”, the layout of the poem presented another challenge to get right. “I normally spend a disproportionate amount of time trying to figure out a way to successfully portray a story” adds the poet. There have even been previous projects that Brian’s abandoned altogether because the visuals didn’t look right.

With the help of a few Saturday morning newspapers however, existing festival advertisements provided the poet with some handy tips as to how to tackle the design. And once he nailed the chronology of the poem, it was relatively easy to put the composition together. Coupled with the Stock image of squelching mud riddled with deep footprints, Brian’s third piece presents the viewer with a rather accurate representation of sludgy summer festivals.

“I’ve both enjoyed and endured a number of summer holidays in the countryside and for me personally, it’s always slightly double-edged,” Brian tells It’s Nice That. “On one hand, these holidays can be incredibly reviving but I’m more of a city boy and after a few days I start to get itchy for my urban comforts,” the poet says on his eventual irritation with nature. The inspiration behind this fourth poem Summer Holiday in the Countryside explores this indignation in an empty ode to the romantic countryside.

Deciding on a Stock image depicting green rolling hills, old stone walls and bright blue skies (probably somewhere in Yorkshire), Brian selected the Stock image for its idyllic portrait of the countryside. He wanted to choose something that would’ve instilled “an impassioned defence of Mother Nature,” from someone like Wordsworth or Emily Brontë. But instead of revealing a poised and elegiac voice through the poem, Brian turns this poetry trope on its head.

He unveils “a rather grumpy narrator” as the poem unfurls, “who, on the surface, feels the wonder of nature but what’s really concerning them is that they have to walk for miles to find a cash point and they can’t even get a decent frappucino and the wifi is hopeless.” Capturing both the romantic and problematic side of nature of the countryside into the poem, it’s certainly one for today’s impatient generation, and perhaps even Wordsworth would be saying similar things if he were alive today.

Determined to find the humour in some rather difficult situations, Brian’s uplifting poems continue to transform the gloomy corners of Twitter into literary works of art. “I do attempt to be funny when I can,” says Brian on his writing process. And responding to Adobe Stock images as opposed to a Twitter feed has been different but fortifying.

Where Twitter is full of other people’s thoughts, news stories and videos, which often provides Brian with a readymade set of thoughts and ideas to write from, the Stock images on the other hand allowed Brian to interpret an image through an individual lens of witty cynicism.

Though Brian rejects around 90% of his initial ideas, his general rule of thumb is: “If I write something and it’s not amusing me, then I don’t think it has a chance of amusing anyone else either.” Gradually perfecting his signature tone of humour through trial and error, it’s no wonder that Brian’s career as a poet rapidly took off; albeit accidentally.

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About the Author

Jyni Ong

Jyni joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in August 2018 after graduating from The Glasgow School of Art’s Communication Design degree. In March 2019 she became a staff writer and in June 2021, she was made associate editor.

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