Amassing more than 170k Instagram followers, the majority of whom have discovered his words of comfort and inspiration during lockdown, Blake Auden has become one of the UK’s most popular ‘social poets’. By sharing his short, yet powerful, ‘micro poetry’ every day, he’s increasing the form’s popularity, and helping others realise the wellbeing value of expression.
That we’ve all been living in isolation during the digital age presents a blessing of sorts. “Social media has been somewhat vilified in recent years for the negative impact it can have on our mental health, and often, rightly so,” Auden tells me. “But I feel like the ease of communication afforded by these platforms has really helped many of us cope during the pandemic. Social media has played an important role in keeping us talking, during a period when many of us have never felt more alone.” On a personal level, it has also given Auden a powerful platform to distribute his own work. These tools afforded to him and other poets has led to something of a democratisation of poetry, and of art in general. The creative industry can now reach a large audience, without the restrictions of traditional gatekeepers like publishers or management companies.
Social media has also enabled direct connection with audiences – something particularly important during the last year. His role as an advocate for how journaling, poetry and the strength of creativity can impact anxiety and mental health reflects a time where we perhaps need coping mechanisms more than ever.
He was introduced to poetry at a young age. His father away in the military, the young Auden sought out war poems. Here he discovered the power of words to support and heal. As an adult, he projected his flourishing passion into work as a lyricist. When he began suffering from extreme anxiety, he used daily journaling as a device for understanding his emotions. This then evolved into poetry, yet Auden only shared his work online in the last couple of years.
His now daily Instagram posts have demonstrated the value of sharing personal experiences, and how this can enable positive contextualisation of personal situations.“For most people, this may be talking to a friend, family member or a mental health professional, but for some people this can mean sharing with a much wider audience.” He says it can be daunting to talk about his own struggles, particularly with strangers. But there is a genuine, often transformative, power in vulnerability. This willingness to be honest and vulnerable helps readers connect to his work.
Now he has a new collection of poetry, The Things We Leave Behind. A follow-up to his successful and deeply personal releases, Tell The Birds She’s Gone and Beekeeper, it lays out compelling reactions to the fear and anxiety accompanying Covid. “I think this is the most honest and personal book I’ve written, and it’s something I’m proud to have been able to achieve during lockdown.” It provides evocative reflections on his own mortality, the things we all leave behind us, the things we carry, and the trauma and loss which makes us who we are.
He says Brighton & Hove is the most inspirational place he’s been lucky enough to visit. First arriving in the city to study at BIMM, he immediately fell in love with the creative and collaborative atmosphere –
“Kindness, empathy and tolerance have always been extremely important to me. I’ve never found such an abundance of those virtues anywhere in the same way I have in Brighton, and the city has become an important part of who I am, and the work I create.”
He also seeks inspiration in nature, which the rich ecosystem across East Sussex has in abundance. In October, he’s releasing another collection called Murmuration, which is inspired by the starlings we regularly see over the city’s piers.
There’s belief that anyone whose voice has been given a platform bears responsibility to their audience. “I absolutely feel a growing moral and social obligation to use the platform for more than just making a living, and it’s something I think about more and more.” We all have a responsibility to be kinder on social media, regardless of followers or subscriber numbers. The impact of the pandemic has bought into focus the value of community, kindness and support. “While this certainly means helping to encourage discussion around mental health issues and normalising the struggle so many of us go through, I also want to share my own personal story as much as I can.” There’s an absolute intent to use his own platform to help other writers find their voices and their own audiences. He recently launched a newsletter through his website. Called Altar for the Hunted Things, it enables wider examinations of wellbeing, loss and healing through a weekly personal essay. He’s also establishing The Lighthouse Project, an initiative supplying monthly showcases of new, under-represented or lesser-known writers, as well as projects, charities and good causes centred around kindness and mental health.
Perhaps the pandemic has engendered a greater sense of understanding on many different levels. It might even prompt genuine change in the coming years. “I think the shift towards a sense of community and shared experience has been profound in the past 12 months, and I do believe it will have a lasting impact. There has been a surge in volunteering, looking out for vulnerable people in the neighbourhood and in acts of charity, and many of these activities are organised through social media.” Auden imagines this subtle shift in social media use will redefine what we mean by ‘community’ and how we interact with others.
The potential of poetry as a self-help solution has been increasingly recognised, especially at a time when we’ve had the time to create forced upon us. Auden suggests we are already seeing a rebirth of poetry across the world, in part due to the sharing of work on the internet. “I expect to see this growth continue as we come out of the pandemic, particularly as people look to art to help process all that they’ve been through over the last year.” It’s the role of poetry to help make sense of a complex existence and has always provided an outlet when cultures have endured a significant trauma.
“I believe people will look for meaning amongst the noise and will need help to make sense of everything we have been through, both collectively and individually.”
His is a journey of empowerment, both for himself and those who read his work. While people may be going through a complex set of emotions in their life, Auden is eager to make everyone realise they’re not enduring this alone. “There’s something incredibly valuable, and supportive, in discovering that other people are struggling with the same things you are, particularly during such a difficult period.” He regularly receives comments and messages from people who tell him that the poetry has really helped them deal with their own traumas. Knowing his work is helping people has provided the greatest reward over the past 12 months. “I truly believe these poems now belong to the people who read them, rather than to me.”
Blake Auden’s The Things We Leave Behind is available on Tues 16 March. Find out more at: www.blakeauden.com, or on Instagram at: @blakeaudenpoetry