National Poetry Day 2015: Illuminating the World
There will be poems delivered with the morning post, poetry performed and presented in our public spaces, libraries and theatres, and online…plus broadcasts of verse across the airwaves on national radio. There will be poetry turning up in some surprising places
National Poetry Day is run by Forward Arts Foundation, a charity that celebrates poetry and promotes it as part of everyday life. They award the annual Forward Prizes for Poetry and publish The Forward Book of Poetry, an indispensable anthology of the year’s best poems. OX spoke to Peter Cummings from Forward Arts Foundation about their choice of theme, the people involved and what the 21st birthday celebrations will entail.
How do you come up with a theme for NPD and why did you decide on Light for this year?
Every year NPD has a theme which is intended to give some focus to the boundless creativity on show without being prescriptive. This year the theme is Light because we wanted to celebrate our 21st birthday by illuminating the world, both metaphorically and literally. Light has such rich associations – and every living thing responds to it – so it’s perfect for a celebration that aims to get as many people involved in reading and writing poetry as possible. The meaning can be interpreted in a great number of ways: physical light such as the sun or figurative light, as in enlightenment. You can even turn it inside out and think of lack of light, or see it in terms of weight or levity in general. We experience light as a system of communication, from stained glass windows to fibre optic broadband, light verse to Morse code. It enables us to perceive, and in that way, it’s harder to imagine a better fit for poetry.
You’ve got some notable people involved in NPD 2015; is there anyone else that you’re hoping to get involved in the future?
This year the list includes Simon Schama, Andrew Marr, Dominic West, Harriet Walter, Charles Dance, and Fiona Shaw. It’s really wonderful that more and more people want to be involved with NPD. Certainly well-known names help enormously to encourage the celebration of poetry on a larger scale and bring contemporary work to a wider audience. We particularly welcome sports stars and musicians as they have such mass followings – and when they remember a poem and share it with others, it makes a real impact. With that in mind, we couldn’t do without the enthusiasm from people working at the grassroots level, the less well-known ones that are the backbone of NPD and do a lot of the work in reminding people of the power of their own voices.
With Macmillan Children’s Books, Forward Arts Foundation has nominated ten leading children’s poets as NPD Ambassadors, with special responsibility for igniting enthusiasm nationwide. They will be in schools across the UK and delivering poetry workshops via Skype (using fibre optic light!). More information on these daring characters can be found here.
The simple answer would be to say we’d love to have anyone else involved, any one at all. Everyone is invited.
What events are going on for NPD this year and what are you doing to make your 21st birthday extra special?
All over the UK there are plans to run workshops in our schools, and to this end we have collaborated with poetry organisations from all over the UK to create some magnificent free educational resources, which can be found on our website.
There will be poems delivered with the morning post, poetry performed and presented in our public spaces, libraries and theatres, and online…plus broadcasts of verse across the airwaves on national radio. There will be poetry turning up in some surprising places.
Like all birthdays, the main thing is to feel we’ve achieved something worthwhile and then develop our understanding of how we can develop next year. With that said, having the BBC involved in so many different ways does feel extra special. They’re giving over a whole day’s schedule at Radio Four to tell the history of the British Isles through poetry: We British: An Epic In Poetry.
In celebration of NPD we decided to get in touch with our old friends Blackwell’s who informed us of their poetry bestsellers since last October as well as the favourite poems of the Blackwell’s staff. Then we’ve got favourites from notable others, including ‘pop-comedy-mashup’ duo Frisky and Mannish!
Blackwell’s poetry bestsellers of the last year
Citizen by Claudia Rankine | Poetry by Heart by Andrew Motion, Julie Blake, Jean Sprackland | Shingle Street by Blake Morrison | Hold Your Own by Kate Tempest | The Beautiful Librarians by Sean O’Brien | Sentenced to Life by Clive James | One Thousand Things Worth Knowing by Paul Muldoon | Kim Kardashian’s Marriage by Sam Riviere | Six Poets: Hardy to Larkin by Alan Bennett | Bedouin of the London Evening by Rosemary Tonks | Storm by Tim Minchin | Sack by John Kinsella | Summer Requiem by Vikram Seth | Faithful and Virtuous Night by Louise Gluck | Unfolding Origami by David Olsen
Favourite poetry of the Blackwell’s staff
Hannah (Events Co-ordinator): ‘Chocolate Cake’ by Michael Rosen | David (Bookseller, Medical department): ‘Stop all the clocks’ by W.H. Auden | Euan (Academic Manager): ‘Flat Thin Chests’ by Ivor Cutler | Ulric (Norrington Room Manager): The Rime of the Ancient Mariner by Samuel Taylor Coleridge | Mike Summers (Distribution Manager): ‘The Highwayman’ by Alfred Noyes | Nick (Bookseller, Norrington Room): ‘The Jabberwocky’ by Lewis Carroll | Becky (Bookseller, Ground Floor): ‘The Windhover’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins | Hannah (Bookseller, Business department): ‘Mid-term Break’ by Seamus Heaney | Jade (Bookseller, Languages & Literature): ‘For women who are difficult to love’ by Warsan Shire
Frisky and Mannish: Favourite Poem
‘What is Poetry?’ by Adrian Mitchell
"We like to think this poem sums up our approach to making art. It's fun, it's silly, but it can be very profound if you think about it"
Stephanie Tye (New Theatre Oxford): Favourite Poem
‘First Day At School’ by Roger McGough
“I have loved this poem since I was a child. I remember writing it out on the blackboard when I was in Year 3 and can still remember all the verses. It really sums up what it is like to start school, but I think that it works on two levels, speaking to both children and adults”
Janie Hextall (The Woodstock Bookshop): Favourite Poem
Janie Hextall and Barbara McNaught’s revised edition of Washing Lines will be launched at the Woodstock Bookshop Poetry Festival by Katrina Porteous alongside their new anthology: Shorelines. Both publications are collections of poetry selected by Janie and Barbara. The new version of Washing Lines replaces some poems with new or previously undiscovered work; Shorelines is about collecting shells and pebbles, beaches and beachcombing. The festival runs from 13-15 November.
‘Postscript’ by Seamus Heaney
“I have so many favourite poems, many of which are in these collections, but I love Seamus Heaney, and this poem seems to say it all – I especially like the idea of finding the heart unlatched and blowing it open – it is what a good poem should do. This is one of the poems I give to people who say they don’t like/can’t understand poetry and it seems to unlatch their hearts. It is the last poem in Shorelines”
Rebecca Dougall (Headmistress of St Helen and St Katharine): Favourite Poem
‘A Nocturnal upon St. Lucy's Day’ by John Donne
“This might seem a strange choice for an optimistic person! It’s about the shortest day of winter and explores loss and melancholy but it has a richness and intensity of language that I find compelling. Reading Donne aloud is a real pleasure – you can throw yourself into the alliteration and sensuous language. This poem has a strong and despairing voice which is self-absorbed and yet prompts sympathy. The imagery of the death of the year and the death of daylight combining with the grief of loss is brilliant”