Have a Pussy Riot on National Poetry Day

Happy National Poetry Day! We can all rejoice that, among many other things, none of us in this country are about to go to prison for writing a poem, or being disrespectful in a church, or mixing our registers in a public discourse.

I’m about to go to the Southbank Centre for the second half (okay, slightly less; I’ve been ploughing a path through to the Baroque desk past all the detritus of Mlle B, now safely ensconced in a tidy room in Leeds) of the Poetry Society’s National Poetry Day Live event. It includes the launch of Poetry Review, the new issue edited by the indefatigable Charles Boyle: a volume that did not have to be approved by any state censors. Plus this year’s shiny crop of Foyle Young Poets, judged by Helen Mort and Christopher Reid. Readings all round. All day. Let no one say poetry is dead.

I was in a panel discussion the other day where as usual someone said poetry is a tiny, marginalised art form. Well, maybe. But somehow we (the mythical ‘we’ that doesn’t exist?!) feel strongly enough about it even now that it occupies a central place on the school syllabus at both infant and advanced levels. There’s a big knees-up at the Southbank Centre for the national day devoted to it. So that’s a baseline that doesn’t feel as marginalised as, say, macramé, matchstick-building or painting on velvet. What we do with it is up to us.

(Quote of the day is from the American mid-century poet Kenneth Rexroth: ‘I’ve had it with these cheap sons of bitches who claim they love poetry but never buy a book.’)

One thing we can do with it is what the wonderful Sophie Mayer started, above: poetry as a protest action that can utilise the new technology that also brings you this blog, and other things. Poets can be lightning-fast when they have to. Catechism was put together with incredible speed, using social media to get contributors involved, in advance of Oct 1st, which was to have been the day of Pussy Riot’s appeal. That has been moved to the 10th but the book carries on! You can download it from English PEN, as either an e-book or a pdf, for a voluntary donation. And, as of today, you can buy a printed copy from Lulu.com. (I’ve got all three.)

The book is being translated into Russian as we speak, and the idea is to present it to the women in  prison, if possible. We were asked to write with the censors – as well as the translators – in mind, so the poem I’ve contributed is in quite a different style from my usual. More literal, I suppose. Less surface play, less embedded punning… Some of you may find that a huge relief.

I’m very pleased to have both a poem in Catechism, and a review in the new Poetry Review. (A review of two noble books: the anthology Adventures in Form, previously given the Baroque treatment, and Glyn Maxwell’s idiosyncratic On Poetry, which I love so much it practically made me cry in the tube. It is a really indispensible book, I’ll say that here. Anyone who follows my advice will be £25 poorer – and now £45, what with Poetry Review and Catechism – but oh, massively happier.

Happy National Poetry Day, everyone. And remember: every single day is Poetry Day.

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