Celebrating World Poetry Day – Wednesday 21 March 2018

It’s World Poetry Day today! As an occasional poet myself, I’m a bit embarrassed to say I didn’t know there was a World Poetry Day until earlier this week. Turns out the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization are behind it, declaring in 1999 that March 21st would be a day to celebrate poetry globally each year.

What’s so good about poetry though? For lots of people, poetry doesn’t really play a part in their lives – at the most, perhaps when people think of poetry they think of a stuffy 3rd form classroom, being lectured about World War One rhyming couplets and Shakespearean sonnets.

Poetry in the Aotearoa New Zealand Centre
Poetry in the Aotearoa New Zealand Centre. Central Library Manchester, Christchurch. Friday 22 August 2014. Flickr 2014-08-22-IMG_1608

But, as the UN says: “Poetry reaffirms our common humanity by revealing to us that individuals, everywhere in the world, share the same questions and feelings…” which is a pretty comforting idea. At its most simple, I guess they’re saying that whatever background and culture and language you come from, poetry provides a way of explaining thoughts and feelings and ideas that maybe just don’t make as much sense in other formats. What would the Hogwarts Sorting Hat be without its introductory poem? The Oompa Loompas without their songs? And on a more serious note, those soldiers writing in the trenches certainly thought they could express their experiences more powerfully through poems; and the poems that come out of revolutions and wars and times of upheaval can give us insight into the humanity of a situation that a simple news report cannot. For most cultures around the world, storytelling, poetry, and spoken word are the key ways histories have been recorded and traditions have survived.

Phantom Poetry on High Street
Phantom Poetry on High Street. Flickr CCL-2012-07-IMG_5335

There’s plenty of opportunity to explore some poetry this World Poetry Day – a short walk around the city will get you face to face with a poem on a bollard or a wall with thanks to Phantom Billstickers poetry posters; a quick YouTube search and you’ll find plenty of slam and performance poetry (Button Poetry is a great place to start); and of course the library has plenty of poetry to get your hands on – why not start with Kate Tempest (UK); Rupi Kaur (Canada); or Selina Tusitala Marsh?

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Or you could check out some live poetry! It’s happening all year round in Ōtautahi, with Catalyst, Faultline Poetry Collective, and Mad Poets Society all hosting regular events. There’s also a New Zealand National Poetry Day, celebrated this year on Friday 24th August where events and competitions are run all over the country.

It’s pretty clear that poetry is still strong, still living and breathing in communities all around the world – including right here!

Ray

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