Blue in Green: A conversation with Hackney based poet Joe Bidder

Hackney poet Joe Bidder.

Hackney poet Joe Bidder celebrated his 80th birthday and the launch of his new poetry collection earlier this year. - Credit: @Joseph Bidder

An East London poet has sat down to talk about his life in Hackney, his profound career change from chemical Engineer to poet and his new poetry collection Blue in Green.

Joe Bidder cites that his love of poetry and literature started as a young Jewish east Londoner and explains how religious stories aided his poetry in both rhythmical form and content.

He considers that “you go to Hebrew classes when you were younger, and you had to learn portions of these scrolls off by heart. And I think that is poetry; there is a rhythm in old and modern Hebrew that is very poetic.

“The singers I like best are Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon. Their work is entirely different, but the common fact is that I, Peter Gabriel and Paul Simon are all Jewish.”

The front cover of Joe Bidder's new book Blue in Green. Art work by Paulette Ng. 

The front cover of Joe Bidder's new book Blue in Green. Art work by Paulette Ng. - Credit: Joe Bidder, Dizzy Press, 2021

This reverence for musicians brings us onto the first time he heard Jazz music, which has influenced both his life and poetry.

“At the age of 17 or 18 I had learnt to drive, and, in those days, you could drive your car to the West End of London without worrying about parking.

“So I rolled up into Oxford Street and I could hear this music. It was coming from what must have previously been a cinema.

Most Read

"I entered and there were five musicians playing, called the Joe Harriott Quintet. That sound transformed my life.”

Before becoming a poet, Joe graduated Imperial College London and became a chemical engineer who started up chemical plants, oil factories and steel works.

However, he describes to me the sudden realisation of his true passion: “Poetry came to me as if it was on the wind. At the age of 37, a transformation occurred, and I suddenly started writing. There must have been something in my soul that was always a poet.”

Joe started out writing novels, but soon realised that the format did not suit his talents. His first collection of poetry, Eyes & Spirals, was published in 1982 with Hillary Porter.

He has since gone onto publish various collections, co-founding the Survivor’s Poetry Movement in 1991 and was the chairman of the Arts and Disability panel for Arts England.

The back cover of Joe's book features American jazz trumpeter and band leader Dizzy Gillespie.

The back cover of Joe's book features American jazz trumpeter and band leader Dizzy Gillespie. - Credit: Freddy Warren © of Simon Whittle

Mental Health and disability have always been a key feature of Joe’s poetry.

He says that “you have long periods of being very high. I have never taken drugs. Like Salvador Dali said 'I am drugs'. 

"But conversely, you pay the penalty for being high as you go through periods of depression.

“I started seeing a homeopath and she changed my life. You have to abandon all ego and pretence and be completely honest. And that’s what I have been ever since.”

This honesty has led to the publication of his latest work Blue in Green, which acts as culmination of Joe’s extraordinary life.

The collection explores stories passed down from his Jewish upbringing with poems like Megiddo; his life and travels as a chemical engineer in poems like Through Olive Trees and his visceral examination of both his own mental health and the societal treatment of outsiders in poems like Neurologist and Drummer Boy.

Joe believes that this collection is “really my autobiography. It is me telling an audience about my life and everything in there is true".