On stage at the Royal Festival Hall
Here’s a thing: I feel fraudulent when I’m introduced as ‘the director of National Poetry Day’. Oh, I like the important-sounding title, and that is certainly my job description; but in truth, I don’t run National Poetry Day – not even the Forward Arts Foundation and our able PR team do that. You do, dear poetry folk.
I do get to blow the trumpet that rallies the poetic troops for their big charge every October. Across the UK, poets, librarians, teachers,
Foyle Young Poets
promoters, nightclub owners, venue hosts and festival managers…. they all run NPD events, from the smallest portakabin library to the Festival Hall. These events often happen on other days too, but on this one day these people get a spotlight to shine on their work. It’s a day to recognise the art form that Britain excels in – the work of Shakespeare and Keats and Shapcott and Duffy and Heaney and Walcott and Auden and dear God, we could be here all year. This isn’t just publicity-speak; it’s a great event, an event that exists only to celebrate. There is poetic excellence and free-for-all doggerel; and lots of pleasure.
This year’s NPD was a stonker, wasn’t it? Bloody marvellous, thanks to those who ran readings, went to events, got a poetry book from the library or listened to a poetry programme on the radio. I was in London for the day – at a poetry breakfast, the Foyle Young Poets awards, the Poetry Takeaway, the big NPD Live event at the Southbank, and finally a brilliant night of words with good friends at the Ritzy in Brixton. Back in my local in Cheshire, friends were writing poetry on beermats. In Huntly, Aberdeenshire, guerilla poets were posting poems on walls through the night. All sorts of silliness and splendour were happening. Poetry was plastered all over the UK.
Michael Rosen: one of the NPD poetry army
Do we need a National Poetry Day? Well, no. Not like we need a National Health Service or an army. Frankly, I don’t need a birthday but I like to have one every year. It makes me feel good, it reminds me what I’ve done over the year; it reminds my friends that I exist. It gives me an excuse for a party. That’s what NPD does for poetry. We don’t do it for the money – so let’s do it for the joy.
Some people, of course, are not joining us in the silly hats. Any fool can criticise, and many of them do. Here, for instance, is an email I received last week about the poem commissioned for NPD:
No wonder kids hate poetry nowadays. That’s thanks to scammers and cowboys like you, who present tripe that any halfwit could cough up as worthwhile. It is not. It is dire and silly light headed rambling, without metre, style, enjambment or skill. Shame on you!
Thank you, Mr ‘Dave Heexgin’. Do have a look at this article, from which you will learn that enjambment is not just a long word but a long word with a specific meaning. If your work brings poetry to millions through fundraising, partnership building, commissioning poets and literature workers, meeting poetry organisations across the UK, talking to schools and libraries…. well, I’d be awfully surprised.
But that, my darling beloved and strangely attractive reader, is what YOU do; all those folk from Wick to Dover who get off their backsides and organise something that celebrates our great, glorious, life-changing tradition of wordplay. It’s been a lovely, lovely National Poetry Day. What the hell – let’s do it again next year. Same time, same place but BIGGER please, on October 4th 2012. Let’s enjamb the hell out of this thing.
Cowboys? Yeeeeeee ha!