I saw my friend Ols on Saturday, and we spent a good hour gossiping as we looped around Bloomsbury taking in the sights.
Then we stopped for tea, and both of us sat down, ordered our drinks, duly rummaged around for our phones, and then – whoosh! – we were suddenly sucked into that lurid glow and the (mostly false) promises of excitement it held.
After a few minutes, we both realised how ridiculous the fact that we together in the flesh and yet had our phones out was, and mutually agreed to put them away.
But the itch was still there.
And the fact there was an itch there annoyed me. I rail against the idea of being some programmed phone addict, checking mine for a dopamine hit.
According to a 2018 report by Global Web Index, on average, people check their smartphone once every twelve minutes during waking hours, and a staggering 2 hours and 22 minutes per day on social networking.
So I’m not alone. But, still.
Viennese coffee roasters Julius Meinl have clearly noted this trend and, as a woman of Austrian heritage who is well aware of the reverence they have for socialising and a slow pace of life, I’d imagine they feel some dismay when looking around beautiful coffee houses to see people aglow with the light of phones.
But they’ve come up with an excellent idea to prise phones from people’s hands. Tomorrow’s World Coffee Day, and anyone who goes into a participating cafe, hotel or restaurant serving Julius Meinl coffee can claim a free cup by writing a poem with their friend while there.
Now you don’t have to rival Milton or Bryon in your efforts – they just want you to ‘Meet With A Poem’ – basically, get off your phone, and delve into something creative and fun.
They’ve partnered with the founder of the Poetry Pharmacy, Deborah Alma, on the project, so I had a little chat with her about poetry and how it really, truly isn’t anywhere as esoteric as you may think…
MS: People often assert that poetry isn’t for them. What’s your response to that?
DA: I’m from a working class background and grew up on a council estate, but I love poetry. It’s much more accessible and democratic than people think, which is how the Emergency Poet came about. I just went out in a vehicle and put some extracts of poetry inside pills. There’s a power in poetry, and a power in words, and that human connection can stay with you.
MS: And that sense of human connection is exactly what Julius Meinl are trying to foster with their Meet With A Poem day, isn’t it?
DA: Exactly. It’s such an interesting an innovative idea, to co-write a poem. It is an intimate and lovely thing, to have a cup of coffee and to forge connections. That’s what poetry and Viennese coffeehouses are all about.
MS: But to anyone who thinks writing a poem is tricky, what would you say?
DA: Poetry is there for everyone, and the tools for writing it are already in your hands – all you need is a pen and some paper, and your voice. And maybe some gentle writing prompts.
MS: You prescribe poems for those going through difficult periods of life. Can you name a few that you find yourself recommending time and again?
DA: Of course:
– Arrival by RS Thomas. I prescribe this to remind people to take a small, quiet moment. It’s a very hopeful poem, and the last line is ‘there is everything to look forward to.’
– Love After Love by Derek Walcott. Anyone with a broken heart or relationship problems should read this – it’s a reminder to fall in love with your own life.
– Postscript by Seamus Heaney. This is excellent for those struggling with indecision or a lack of meaning, and it talks about the liminal, in-between space where something new can come in.
– Small Kindnesses by Danuscha Lameris. In this difficult world, this poem celebrates the small kindnesses in daily life.
Head down to a participating location here and co-write a poem with a friend in exchange for two cups of Julius Meinl coffee or tea.
This post has been sponsored by Julius Meinl.