Today begins the biggest gathering of international poets London has ever seen. I think that’s right. The Southbank Centre, working with Simon Armitage (and a dedicated team of very hardworking arts programmers and administrators), is bringing a poet from almost every country participating in the Olympic Games, to stage a massively ambitious poetry festival of the nations.
In other words, it’s a Plethora of Poets. Poetry Parnassus. The Mount of Greatness. The whole theme of this summer seems to be about making things BIG BIG BIG – and about CROWDS and everything being MOMENTOUS – it had to be a giant 1,000-ship flotilla, the biggest since the 18th century, didn’t it. And now we’ve got a year’s worth of poets coming to the Southbank in five days. Summer 2012! As suspicious as I am of the whole shebang, you have to like that London is putting on a Cultural Olympiad (as it is variously known) including this enormous festival of poetry. Strangely, though, this bit of it is not being televised.
Many of the events are free. There will be open-air activities – poets reading poetry to people on benches, roof garden readings, a Poetry Emergency Service, Poetry in the Underground, the Poetry Takeaway van where you order a poem and they make it for you on the spot; there will be workshops, and round-table discussions, major mega-readings, intimate’ readings, Lunch Poems, a schools day on Thursday, launches of most of Britain’s major poetry magazines, and a poetry fair all weekend. PEN will be there: I think they’re having a big breakfast for the poets tomorrow. There will be poetry and film. Women’s poetry, poetry of oppression, poetry and translation, slam, youth, um, and have I left anything out.
Friday night sees Seamus Heaney taking the stage with Wole Soyinka (Nigeria), Kay Ryan (USA), Seamus Heaney (Ireland), Kim Hyesoon (South Korea), Claribel Algeria (Nicaragua) and Bill Manhire (New Zealand): an amazing, once-only starry line-up.
Great use will be made of the Clore Ballroom, that sunken bit in the main Festival Hall bar area – in fact, the new issue of Poetry Review will be launched there at 2pm on Saturday. This is the bit I’m actually directly involved in…
So, the events for today are the World Poetry Summit – a multi-session event that goes on all day, from 10 till 6, so will not combine with earning a living – and, at 9, a thing called Rain of Poems, in which…
100,000 poems by over 300 contemporary poets from 204 countries fall from a helicopter over Jubilee Garden during Poetry Parnassus as the sun sets.
The performance, carried out by the Chilean arts collective, Casagrande in collaboration with Southbank Centre, is set to be one of the most visually stunning displays of aeronautical poetry ever seen.
Rain of Poems over London is the sixth performance of its kind which sees poetry raining down on cities that have suffered air raids in the past.
It has been held in Berlin, Germany, Warsaw, Poland, Guernica, Spain, Dubrovnik, Croatia, and Santiago, Chile.
The bookmarks are released at twilight and printed in two languages, written by both Chilean writers and writers involved in Poetry Parnassus. This performance has a symbolic value that serves to create an alternative image of the past and is a gesture of remembrance but also a metaphor for the survival of cities and people.
I’ll be rushing over the bridge after my Tuesday night class, so I may see it from afar. I nearly blogged about the one they did in 2010, in I think it might have been Berlin. I thought it was in bad taste and a bit too callow and hippy, to think you could undo the actual horrendous destruction of a Blitz through a rain of poems. (Let’s see what happens when they do it in Dresden or Nagasaki). But now everyone is strangely excited about this event, and I find that I am, too: we might be feeling its metaphorical power.
It could even be as good as fireworks. Poetry Fireworks.
And by the way, there’s a book. Of course there’s a book! My week began all of a sudden yesterday, with a heavy THUD on the doormat. Talk about being bombed with poems! It was a Bloodaxe volume, edited by Neil Astley and Anna Selby, which is going to be my Bible for the week: modestly titled The World Record, it contains a poem by every poet in Parnassus.
There’s also going to be a handmade-book-making exercise going on in the Poetry Library upstairs, called the Making of the World Record. Poets writing their poems on paper made in Kosovo from world fibres.
(Speaking of libraries, a small note. I’m very sorry the Itinerant Poetry Librarian isn’t part of this bonanza; she has gone all over the world to spread the word, on no money, and she uses humour and performance to do great work. If the Poetry Takeaway and so on are part of Parnassus, the Itinerant Poetry Librarian should definitely be part of it too. I gather this is something to do with the Southbank’s branding policy, because she is a ‘library’ and they have a ‘library’. As if one person with slicked-back hair and glasses is going to undermine a national institution. This just makes me tired.)
ANYWAY. So much to see! Reciting, raining, writing, screening, making, printing, teaching, talking, even eating. Gotta get going. I’m very late for my day!
Editing in rather than adding a second post, for now. The Rain of Poems is goingon from 9.15 till 9.45. See this article in the Guardian:
The first “poetry bombing” took place in Chile, after dictator Augusto Pinochet was imprisoned, “as an outlet for the great joy we found in finally being able to express ourselves, particularly in public spaces”, said Casagrande, which describes the event as “an expression of peace and healing”.
The festival is as I thought it would be, busy and multifarious and splendid – I aattended one thing, a panel talk on poetry and elitism (I know – ‘panel talk’) and it was very interesting. It ran over by 25% and no one even noticed. More on that when I get a chance.
All in all, inspiring! Get down there this week if you can.