With no disrespect to Her Majesty, she may have Buckingham Palace and an estate so rich it thrives best in times when the rest of us are distressed, as was announced yesterday; but we have poems and yesterday they rained down on us in little silver glitters. Before they did that, they had been read on rooftops, written in a pop-up nylon tube train, sung to music, presented as lectures, and discussed, and discussed, and discussed. She’s got the money and the adoration of the people and the crown. We’ve got the poems, and the sweep of time, and Parnassus. We stopped the London Eye. (Somebody said: think how much money that’s cost them.)
(It’s not yet complete omnipotence. It was hard just trying to navigate the city yesterday to get to the poetry. It took about 40 minutes from Embankment station to the place I needed to be: Hungerford Footbridge was closed so I had to go all round the houses, then the Southbank itself is so chockablock that in short, when your correspondent finally found the right place, she was in one of those low blood sugar moods.)
Anyway. The Rain of poems. Of course by I was trying to come back for it after teaching they had managed to shut Waterloo Bridge as well, whcih I had no idea of till the bus from Holborn started going all the way down Fleet Street. Blackfriars. Made it in the end. Got there for maybe 15 mins of it… Swivel head round from massive frustration to the wonderfully lit Jubilee Gardens (film lights compensating for heavy cloud), where a massive crowd of people were catching poems as they fell. The crowd wasn’t all poets, either – though there were many, of course, and the ethereally blonde Estonian poet Kristiina Ehin was on the scene in a pale ballgown: at one stage I saw her reading to camera. (Later outside the bar in Parnassus Village’, she and others did a slightly Bacchanalian line dance…)
The crowd in Jubilee Gardens was just everybody – a lot of people who were plainly not poets and had merely stumbled onto Parnassus as part of their day out – which is just how it should be.. Just people in the city gathering to have something special happen to them. (Later though people also talked of how all the poets gathering in one place to do something nice was such a refreshing change, poets from different camps’ who are never in the same place… ) In the gardens there was a big game (someone said it reminded them of all the people who had liked sport at school) of catching the poems as they fell, sand to be honest it did favour the tall, the leapers and jumpers… and it did get a bit competitive. I managed to get a few, but by cleverness rather than leaping. It is the Baroque way.
And the wind was carrying the poems further afield, anyway. One load of them went towards an office block near the gardens; others went over towards the bridge and the Festival Hall. I saw a few, lit by the lights so they looked silver, floating down over the river. Apparently people were picking them up all over the place for some time. 100,000 is a lot of poems.
One friend said that when the people near her asked what was happening, and she explained, they asked, ‘What’s it for?’ First they thought it was advertising. As they realised that it was just a thing, for the sake of a thing, and no one was trying to sell them anything, they became very happy and really got into it.
As the helicopter hovered and periodically dropped more poems, which came as a cloud and then dispersed into fluttering silver things, it began to be strangely moving. The power of metaphor, you see. And it’s taken a year and a half to organise this event. It may seem a small thing – a helicopter hovers and drops poems – but permissions have had to be sought from everywhere from the council to the Met to the Civil Aviation Authority to ‘probably’ (as one person put it) ‘MI6′. I spoke to the person who organised it and she said the permissions alone took months. And that’s before the 100,000 poems in several languages by hundreds of poets – and before the weather.
Apparently Casagrande has been trying for three years to get permission to do a poem drop in Dresden. They haven’t yet succeeded. On a serious note, clearly there is no way half an hour of poems, however beautiful it is, can in any way make up for destruction. But in its way it did create an energy, reversed the energy to something playful and giving and about making, not wrecking – about bringing people together in newly re-landscaped garden, about curiosity and openness, about bringing together different languages.
A friend there said, aside form anything else, how wonderful to get people to look up. How wonderful, as down-looking city dwellers, to be asked to look up at the sky, and looking up to receive something.
As the helicopter finished, and did its slow circuit of the sky, and headed off away from the crowd, part of me almost wanted to cry.
Afterwards, I saw people posing happily with their poems. It took ages for people to drift away.
This morning, someone has posted on Facebook: ‘Ah! I just found loads of poems outside my office, off Fleet St!’
And a Poetry Society board member says, ‘We offered our taxi driver a poem from our bundle but he waved his own, saying, “I’ve got one, mate!”‘