happy Poetry Christmas

Today is National Poetry Day, as anyone who lives in the UK cannot really fail to have noticed. (Editing in: Scrap that. I’m at work now, and my colleague had no idea it was – though, as it happens, she was reading Me and the Dead on the tube! SEE? It’s in the air.)

(My other colleague, Gary from Leeds, is featured in a National Poetry Day special on a webzine called Creaturemag. Hurrah!)

So, National Poetry Day. There’s lots of talk every year about how making a special day seems to sort of ghettoise poetry on all the other days. “I’m not falling for that claptrap.”

And talk of how stingy it is to have one measly day for poetry, when America has a whole National Poetry Month! They write a poem every day all through April!

Well I’ve tried to do that and I only got about four days in, and work got busy, and the kids got colds, and it just didn’t happen. Why “celebrate” by setting yourself a Herculean task? (Note that Hercules wasn’t trying to hold down a job and three kids.) No, I’d rather celebrate by celebrating. One day a year, why that’s like a birthday! (Mine’s in April, if I had been trying to write a poem a day it would have been a rather anchorite anniversaire.)

National Poetry Month just fizzles out. I think National poetry Day is better than that: it’s like Christmas.

So, let’s say today is Poetry Christmas. Better already! So let’s see…

Poetry is, if not THE Word, definitely Word. Todays’ papers bear a sad poetry Christmas story, a hard legend of sacrifice and rebirth and the enduring power of love and renunciation, according to which two generations have formed their view of poetry.

We have the big event the night before, with a Star, and lo! We woke up this morning and Seamus Heaney had won the Forward Prize for best collection.

And Radio 3 is playing Poetry Christmas carols even as I type: listeners have been sending in their favourite poems set to music, and they’re playing them throughout the morning. So far it’s much more fun than Nine Lessons and Carols, and started with a gorgeous 1940 jazz setting of a Shakespeare song.

I’m trying to think what food we eat on Poetry Christmas but I think you’ll just have to follow Poetry Digest – the world’s first edible poetry magazine – to see what they recommend.

There are places you can go to commune with other people celebrating the festival. In fact, the Royal Festival Hall has things going on all day: if you’re in London and have time, you could head down there. I think it might even be starting around 10am. (Ican’t make it; unlike real Christmas we don’t – as yet, I mean – get Poetry Christmas off.) And there’s aloads more happening across the country.

But the main thing about Christmas, as any fule kno, is presents. Today is a wonderful day to give the gift of poetry to your friends. (As with International Talk Like a Pirate Day, I heartily recommend including your colleagues in the celebration.)

Tony Williams, a fellow Salt poet, has written a really delightful post for Salt’s blog, with a very simple message for today: recommend a poetry book to someone who might not normally read poetry. Tony says, and I have also always found, that “people are interested, but they don’t know where to start. They’re a bit scared of poetry, and they don’t think they’re invited anyway.” He says:

With fiction, you can at least start with the bestseller lists; but then you’ve probably been reading fiction in some form or other for much of your life: you have reference points, you have books you know you like. But the only poetry you’ve read may have been at school, and you probably didn’t like it much (you were being assessed on it, so it probably seemed quite important to ‘get’ it). People need a way in to poetry, a square one. And that’s pretty easy to give them.

So go on: have you read a book of poetry lately? Did you like it? Or not Why not turn to your colleague at the next desk this morning; wait for a pause in their conversation about the new series of The Apprentice (“just more Tories selling bad sausages” says my friend Suzanne); and say to them, “Hey, I was reading this cool thing last week…”

You never know: if we had Poetry Christmas, the kids might even get into it.

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