Poems by Post interview: Support creativity in hard times

Poems by Post is an independent poetry subscription service running straight out of Brighton. Each month subscribers receive a hand-curated package of writing and artwork from a new artists.

We got into it with Alex from Poems by Post to discuss the ethos of the project, the highs, the lows, and the value of tangible art in a modern world.

UC: Can you give an overview of the ethos, and the mindset behind the project. Was it a single lightbulb moment or the culmination of something greater?

Alex: Poems by Post is something that I’ve had growing and evolving in the back of my mind for a long time, so no single lightbulb moment – but a long and continuing succession of them perhaps!

I used to work as a busker, writing poetry for people on the streets. And in that time, I came into contact with so many incredible people, who were members of an artistic community I’d never really seen before. People devoted to all kinds of craft, and I was constantly struck by their endeavour and amazing dedication to their art – even though very few of them made a living from it.

Then, when this pandemic hit, we all saw as artists, performers, musicians, venues… all had their revenue streams cut to nothing. Yet at the same time, during those initial lockdowns, everyone seemed to turn to some sort of innate creativity to get themselves through this really tough time. There was this wonderful BOOM of people taking up art forms they had always wanted to try, or hadn’t done since they were children – or trying things they’d never even considered before. And it had an enormous positive effect on their ability to cope, and on keeping everyone’s mental state relatively healthy in a crazy time.

There seems to come a point in most of our lives when we stop being a kid, and stop doing all the things we used to do just because we enjoyed them. So, in a nutshell, Poems by Post aims to encourage people to engage with this natural creativity that lies within us all. We do this by sending them little packages of beautiful artwork each month, all of which has been commissioned (at a fair price!) from grassroots artists, enabling them to continue with their craft.

UC: You mention on the site that you wrote a great deal prior to Poems By Post. What was the thinking behind a move to showcase others’ work rather than say, your own? 

The initial idea was just to send my own work! In fact the first poem I sent out (to all 6 subscribers!) was one of mine, but I quickly realised just how valuable a platform like this could be for emerging artists. We commission the poem from them – in some cases this has been the first paid commission for these poets – but we also introduce them to an audience of hundreds of engaged readers. This has already had knock-on effects for several of the poets and artists we have worked with, in the form of sales of their other work, for example. As we grow, we will be able to do so much more to amplify their voices further!

UC: How important is the tangible nature of the poems themselves? Is there something in the act of giving someone a poem, or piece of art, that is maybe being lost a bit, especially in times of isolation etc.

It’s absolutely key to what we do. There are so many (very legitimate) reasons why people don’t find the time to engage with their creative side as adults, and one of those is that we spend most of our lives on computers, on phones, where there are literally millions of other things competing for our attention.

But when you receive a letter, you can focus on it alone. You take the time to open it, put the kettle on, sink into the comfy chair with your cup of tea, and enjoy it – properly engage with it. It’s nostalgic and exciting to receive a letter – and there is something extremely beautiful about a hand-typed poem on lovely thick paper! You can feel that someone has put some effort in to making it.

Also, a big part of what we do is encouraging people to do something creative themselves. Sending something physical allows us to provide the space for that. Every single Edition we send includes a card for people to write their own poem in, or draw a picture. Some people keep it for themselves, but we do include an envelope for people to send it on – and give that warm fuzzy feeling of receiving a letter to someone else!

UC: How do you go about finding new poets? Is there anything you really look for in terms of tone, or style, or are you more about providing subscribers with a variety of works from a range of independents?

Sometimes poets catch our eye, and other times they reach out to us. All we look for in the poet is that they are active in the poetry community. Lots of people contact us to say that they write poetry privately for themselves – and that’s ok! But we try and offer the ‘featured poet’ spot each month to someone who will really benefit from the platform we can offer.

This has resulted in a hugely diverse range of poetry styles, of chosen subjects, and of messages that the poets have wanted to get across. It’s always exciting waiting to see what the next poem will look like!

UC: Are there any specific highlights you can point to in the project’s lifetime?

In the beginning we were just commissioning a poem a month, but we want to involve as many artists from as many disciplines as possible with each month’s Edition. So, since July 2021 we have also commissioned a different visual artist each month to design a beautiful envelope in theme with the poem, and a print for the card which goes inside. As we grow we will be able to create more paid opportunities for all kinds of artists each month, and that was the first step – which was exciting!

 Another highlight was assisting one of our poets, Alba Frederick, in the publication of her debut collection in October. It’s a brilliant portfolio of poetry and artwork, and we were really proud of being able to make that happen. It was truly heart-warming to see the reaction amongst our community of subscribers, who really got behind Alba and supported her first publication.

If you want to check it out, the pamphlet is still available in our shop.

 UC: In a sentence, what is the ultimate goal of Poems By Post? What would be a ‘success’

Success is to get people creating for fun!

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