On Glass Ceilings and Vulnerability: #ThousandPoemYear Update – Week 8

[Hi I’m Joshua Judson. I’m writing 1000 poems this year. Find out how and why HERE.]

Poems written this week: 27
Poems written so far this month: 75

February’s Poem Target: 75 – R E A C H E D !

Poems written this year: 176
Year’s Poem Target: 1000



There’s an argument in the Page vs Stage debate that Poetry is meant to be spoken, that it predates written language, and as such, is somehow more connected to the Aural Tradition and was always intended to be spoken rather than read.

I’ve never held that argument to very high esteem, but there is something you get from performing poems that you can’t get from any amount of close reading. Especially when it’s your own work. Back when I was in the Mouthy Poets collective in Nottingham, my friend Matt Miller and I would talk about performing as part of the editing process. We’d often take new poems down to open mics to work out the kinks. Not only would you learn what lines/ideas were or weren’t landing, but there’s something about reading a poem out loud, especially in front of people, that brings things to the surface that you might not have noticed before.


So when Matt, in his natural generosity offered to have me up to Newcastle to perform at Babble Gum, a poetry night he helps run up there, I found myself performing a set in front of an audience for only the second time in over a year. The first was at Jazz Verse Jukebox at Hoxton Hall with Barbican Young Poets. That performance was a case of getting my confidence back, which was a success, so the Newcastle set was about road testing some of these 1000 Poems I’m writing.

The thing about writing such a vast volume of poems, aside from not getting to spend as much time as I’d like on each individual one, is that you see your habits. The themes and devices you reach for out of preference or just by default become more and more obvious.

Since I came to London, I’ve shied away from joining any collectives or going out to open mics, seeing this as my chance to get my head down and just work on the technical side of my practise. Establishing routines, experimenting with form etc. And when I was writing less, the odd well rendered image, a decent attempt at a Villanelle or a well expressed idea was enough to make me feel like I was making progress. The volume of poems I am writing this year has shown me that these ‘technical’ progresses matter very little because the real problem at the root of my poetics is a lack of honesty and vulnerability. I can set myself as many challenges as I want, the fact remains that my poetry has reached a glass ceiling where it won’t improve unless I can allow myself to be vulnerable.


That penny had been starting to drop, but only in a Matrix-style slow mo kind of way, but the set I did at Babble Gum sped it up to a Shaun of the Dead style jump cut. I’m a good enough performer that I can hold an audience, but I wasn’t connecting. And I wasn’t connecting because I wasn’t saying anything. At best, I was only half-saying things.

The slightly annoying thing about this realisation, is that everyone I talked to about it already knew it was my problem. I’ve had a few instances of starting to say ‘my work’s missing-‘ and having people jump in with ‘vulnerability!’ Proper annoying. But, as I seem to be saying a lot recently, it’s one thing understanding something intellectually, to be told something. It’s another thing entirely to learn something for yourself – to understand it emotionally.


I, frankly, have no idea how I’m going to introduce more vulnerability into my poetry. Even worse, I have no idea how to become more vulnerable as a person. How does one go about lowering hard-learned defence mechanisms?

Answers on a postcard, please.


In happier news, I reached my poem target for the month, as well as the additional challenge of writing a sonnet a day over the course of the month. Check them out on Twitter under the #28Sonnets hashtag.
After the success of that challenge, I’ve set myself the challenge of writing a Gram of &s poem (as devised by Terrance Hayes) every day in March. I won’t be posting these, partly because I don’t want to clog my Twitter feed, and partly because I think this learning to be vulnerable business is gonna be messy.

Aside from that, it’s going to be business as usual. My poem target for March is 100.

Joshua Judson x


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