Ten ways to celebrate National Poetry Day

poetry letters

Tomorrow, 3 Oct, is National Poetry Day in the UK. Like leprechauns on March 17, the poets will be out in force! Your child might have a poet visit their classroom, you might hear a poet on the radio, or (if in London) you might wander down to the Southbank Centre at lunchtime and be surprised by poets in the Clore Ballroom (the open, public bit). There will be poetry readings up and down the country.

Gregory Leadbetter (poet and Coleridge scholar) has written a blog about this year’s National Poetry Day:

The theme for this year’s National Poetry Day is ‘Water, water, everywhere’: a line taken from Coleridge’s ‘Rime of the Ancient Mariner’, where it is followed by that withering realisation, ‘Nor any drop to drink’ – capturing the terrible paradox of drought on board a ship at sea. Water is so essential to us, so ubiquitous in our habitat, that we might not notice it except through its absence – dehydration, thirst – and our visceral pleasure when that thirst is slaked. An absence of poetry may not kill you, quite – though this is debatable, given its fundamental relationship to articulate thought. An encounter with poetry, however, can certainly be as refreshing as and as vital as drinking the water that the body craves – the sense of being suddenly awash with life, as Coleridge’s Mariner felt, when the rain fell again: ‘Sure I had drunken in my dreams, / And still my body drank’.

But okay. You’re at work. You’re not in London, you’re not invited to a reading, and poetry is so invisible in daily life that it’s almost contraband. The laundry needs doing, you have boring meetings, the kids need their dinner, nobody cares. How can you celebrate a day about poetry? How can you slake your thirst?

Here are ten – count ’em –  ways to mark the day without having to book a holiday, have a life transplant, or get a babysitter. Some of them you can do in secret, others you can share. Even at work. A couple near the end might demand more time or money, but most are totally free.

1. Get the app

First things first! You need instant access to poems. Download the Poetry Foundation’s mobile app for your phone before you leave the house, and you’ll be all set for the day. Then you can treat yourself to little poetry breaks and look like you’re just checking the time or something.

2. Put it where you can see it

Print off a poem you love and stick it to your computer monitor. Look at it throughout the day. If possible, make it a poem by a poet who’s still alive, because poetry is very much a living art form. We’re all around you!

3. Words, words everywhere…

Poetry is about extra meaning in words – and words are everywhere. Look at signs, menus, notices. Look at plaques and license plates. Look at headlines and captions.  Ghostsigns, that faded writing on old buildings. An accidental rhyme, an image, an overheard remark. Be alive to the sustenance that IS out there.

4. Hardwire it into your very being

That poem on your monitor? Print another copy and keep it in your pocket. Try to memorise it as you go through the day. One line at a time. Speaking poetry has as beneficial an effect on the brain as singing; you’ll feel better, you really will. A tube journey, meeting or queue would be a fab place to recite under your breath… See if you can say it all the way through by the time you get home.

5. Weave it into the fabric of your working day

That poem you printed out. You can also just quote it in a meeting. Personally, if this were me, I’d also be working acrostics of this poem into my workplace communications. I’d try to use every word from the first line in an email on the day, or start each line of a document with the first letter of a line of the poem. No one will notice. Even poor George Herbert put an acrostic into a poem in the 17th century that was only discovered about seven years ago. And it’ll make you happy.

6. The kids, the kids!

Then say it to your kids for bedtime. Impress them! Read them Mother Goose, Edward Lear, AA Milne. Read them a book that celebrates words and language and meaning. Don’t make the mistake of thinking kids only like silly things. Read them a poem that was meant for grownups: they’ll love it because it’s beautiful and a bit mysterious. I mean, they’re only human.

7. Make it part of your web

Bookmark a couple of poetry websites and make a decision to just check one of them every day, even just for a minute. This one – though you’re already here – or the Poetry Foundation, or the Magma blog, or Ubuweb, or I Don’t Call Myself a Poet, or any one of a million blogs and magazines. ‘Poetry’ is the singe most googled word, apparently. AND don’t forget that it’s as closely related to music as it is to water. It demands to be heard. The Poetry Archive is great. There’s an old site called Poetry Jukebox that has a little-known recording of Michael Donaghy reading his amazing poem ‘A Darkroom’. Try YouTube; just type something in and see what happens.

8. Buy into it

I know it’s hard because the bookshops are all closing and don’t have poetry anyway. But buy a poetry book. See my previous post or the sidebars to your right if you need an idea for a book. You’ll be really helping a publisher – possibly a small publisher on a shoestring – and a writer. And you’ll have a wonderful book. And/or subscribe to a magazine. Join the Poetry Society. Book tickets to a festival. Join the library (or else this one). You’ll never be thirsty again!

9. Learn poetry

Poetry is not only our oldest, most intrinsically human art form – it’s also a huge arena full of things to learn about. It’s about the very fundamentals of how language works. It’s about learning to read better. How to feel the words in your mouth as you say them.  And how to know yourself better. Naturally, I’ll suggest you start with my Stretchy Sonnets workshop on October 12… Suitable for experts and non-experts alike, as we investigate the inner workings of the quintessential form of English poem, the main thing we stretch is ourselves. (And if you wanted to sign up for my Poetic Technique class on Tuesdays, you’ve only missed the intro session; I could do you a special NPD ‘latebird’ deal.) If you’d rather do something else – fine – your call! See if I care. But do it, you’ll be happier 🙂

10. Write a poem!

Dare I say it? Poetry is something to make. But make it like you, not like a ‘poem’. Here’s an anecdote, for which I have just been kindly sent a link with exact quote:

‘My verse is made of words’, writes Valéry, echoing his master Mallarme’s reply to a painter, who though ‘full of ideas’ could not make verse to his liking. ‘It is not with ideas, my dear Degas, that one makes verse. It is with words’.

Use your own words; stretch them, make them fly.


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