Poetry of Resistance: Brian Bilston’s ‘Refugees,’ Illustrated and Reversed

How Lovely the Ruins-inspired drawings © Nathan Gelgud

Brian Bilston became one of the most popular poets on the internet by composing this twitter poem on a lark in 2014:

you took
the last bus home

don’t know how
you got it through the door

you’re always doing amazing stuff

like that time
you caught a train

It’s rare that a social media star seems to have earned his status, but for me, that’s a gem worth countless followers. Sure enough, a few hundred retweets and new followers came almost immediately, so Bilston tried another playful composition, then another. As he wrote in The Guardian last year “And so my career as social media poet began.”

How Lovely the Ruins #1 580 Nathan Gelgud

I didn’t find out about Bilston online, but by leafing through the new anthology How Lovely the Ruins, a slim collection of “inspirational poems and words for difficult times.” How Lovely is not focused on poetry meant for twitter, but is rather more inclusive, featuring work by canonized poets like Walt Whitman, overtly political ones like Denise Levertov, and more recent voices like Danez Smith and Ocean Vuong.

Editors Annie Chagnot and Emi Ikkanda are aware, however, of the importance of social media in spreading poetry in 2017, writing that “Poetry is reverberating across the divide” as “friends and family members continue to post empowering and moving words–words that make us take notice, that give meaning to this moment we are living through, even as they speak out across time.”

Bilson, who got his start making wordplay jokes, might not seem like an obvious choice for such a collection. But his poem “Refugees,” illustrated here, is clearly a good fit, as well as a strong example of Bilson’s inventive way with structure and deadpan wit.

How Lovely the Ruins #2 580 Nathan Gelgud