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Jo Bell makes a splash as first ever canal laureate on National Poetry Day


The watery verse of a poet who lives on a narrowboat is to be inscribed on new lock gates in the hope it will inspire people to explore their local waterways

A floating poet, Jo Bell – who is a boat dweller, archaeologist and author – has today been announced as the first ever canal laureate, on National Poetry Day, the annual event which she has been managing.

The Canal & River Trust worked with The Poetry Society to find the ideal candidate to write watery verse and organise rippling events – and Bell quickly emerged as the frontrunner. She has lived on Tinker, a 67-foot narrowboat, for the last decade – the experience inspired her first collection, Navigation – and this summer left her usual base on the canals of the Midlands and the north-west for an epic 249-mile, 29-day journey to Wiltshire.

Lines from one of her poems are being inscribed on new lock gates, along with those of Yorkshire poet Ian McMillan and Roy Fisher.

She describes the canals as "England's truest way to travel; long green lines where people go to think, to walk, to fish and to gongoozle – that's boat-watching."

Tony Hales, chair of the Canal & River Trust, said he hoped Bell's work would inspire people to explore their local waterways, and maybe write their own poems. "Many poets have been inspired by the magnificent canals and rivers that form the green veins of Britain's landscape," he said. "They are firmly part of the national creative consciousness."

Among scores of events organised across the country to celebrate National Poetry Day, a highlight will be a marathon free poetry reading at the South Bank, by poets including Roger McGough, Dannie Abse, Christopher Reid and Helen Mort.

A canalside poem by Jo Bell, the newly appointed canal laureate:

Springtime at the Boatyard

You can keep your cuckoos.
We hear Spring's first song
in the sound of angle-grinders,
brazen as a mating call across the yard:
the saw blades and the welders
working between weathers
like a nesting bird; and swarf
as bright as daffodils on workshop floors.

You can keep your catkins;
we have rust like pollen on our skins.
We walk between steel shells
and smell the fresh blue boiler suits
of all the coming days,
when warmth will stretch our hulls
and make of summer afternoons a shed
for building this year's stories.

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