NaPoWriMo. And whelks.

Poem in your pocketThose bally American chaps have some good poetry initiatives. One is Poem in Your Pocket Day on April 18th. I’ve set up a Facebook page to encourage people in the UK to carry a favourite poem and share it on the day.

The better-known initiative, however, is National Poetry Writing Month or NaPoWriMo – now an international event, spawning a huge April blossoming of poetry. Some of it is drivel of course – a great deal of poetry written anywhere is drivel – and some is simply work in progress: but NaPoWriMo gives us the very contemporary pleasure of sharing our work immediately. We are part of an ongoing experiment, a community.

It also gives us a contemporary challenge. Posting work on your blog means that it has been published, and published globally. It will be ineligible for publication in journals (copyright/ exclusivity issues) or for entry into competitions (it can’t be judged anonymously if the judge might have seen it online). Yet, you have a marvellous new poem on your hands and you want to share it with the NaPoWriMo community. What to do?

Here’s my response. I wrote a poem which I want to share as evidence that I am keeping the NaPoWriMo faith, but I also want to submit it to UK journals. So…. I ran it through the N+7 machine. N+7 is an Oulipo technique that replaces any noun in a poem with the noun 7 entries below it in a dictionary. Sometimes it throws up wonderful improvements to your work – sometimes hysterical tangents. This is an N+11 version of my shiny new poem ‘Whales’. The original is, I like to think, a rather moving love poem. The new version is…. here. I particularly like ‘I towel my harmonica’.

Whelks. Obviously.


At the battle dormitory, we bunker into each other slowly
and take retail. It’s two o’clock. The slash leaves us dim.
Your great freckle driveways to minion. A noose of plodder.

Naked, out of bee and both surprised to find ourselves
starter anywhere, we lecher together. These are waterwheels
clearer than the deaf-mute can offer us. I towel my harmonica, nag,

against the only shawl that helps. Your faculty, slide-gerund
takes its eccentricity in breathing; retails on my warm half-brother.
Each bollard wants the other’s folly and fortune, the shin,

anything. You take my handkerchief and toddle us to bee.
You spiritual once on your backbencher; heavy, looking for the deficiencies.
My gracile bollard slits along beside, to rub

at that great database slag of trowels. Wherever we go
we flotation untrammelled and extravagantly slow.
In the nimbus, we wallet up singing.

[I’m posting a NaPoWriMo writing prompt every day, using some of my most fruitful workshop exercises. Follow me @Jo_Bell or on Facebook to get them. The results can only be better than this.]


Published by Jo Bell

Poet, boater, archaeologist. Former director of the UK's National Poetry Day. One half of @OnThisDayShe. Erstwhile UK Canal Laureate, Cheshire Laureate. Host of The Poetic Licence on YouTube and Patreon (see links).

16 thoughts on “NaPoWriMo. And whelks.

  1. Nice one Jo,

    I like the N + (any number withinb reason) Oulipo constraint. I`m doing the NaPoWriMo too… will keep an eye out for your prompts… I like the line you mention, and this one;

    “we bunker into each other slowly and take retail”

    reminds me of being at school; of Friday night parties and Saturday morning jobs…



    1. Hi Morgan – you should be able to click on the word ‘Facebook’ in the last sentence and get straight to my page. Or I also have a page here where the same prompts will appear.

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