Poetry can break open locked chambers of possibility, restore numbed zones to feeling,
recharge desire. ~ Adrienne Rich
Held every year on 21 March, World Poetry Day celebrates one of humanity’s most treasured forms of cultural and linguistic expression and identity. Practiced throughout history – in every culture and on every continent – poetry speaks to our common humanity and our shared values, transforming the simplest of poems into a powerful catalyst for dialogue and peace.
UNESCO first adopted 21 March as World Poetry Day during its 30th General Conference in Paris in 1999, with the aim of supporting linguistic diversity through poetic expression and increasing the opportunity for endangered languages to be heard.
World Poetry Day is the occasion to honour poets, revive oral traditions of poetry recitals, promote the reading, writing and teaching of poetry, foster the convergence between poetry and other arts such as theatre, dance, music and painting, and raise the visibility of poetry in the media. As poetry continues to bring people together across continents, all are invited to join in.
Director General of UNESCO, Ms Irina Bokova, in her Message on World Poetry Day 2017,
speaks of the power of poetry to ‘shake us from everyday life, to remind us of the beauty that surrounds us and the resilience of the shared human spirit.’
In writing about the importance of poetry, poet Adrienne Rich wrote:
Poetry has the capacity to remind us of something we are forbidden to see. A forgotten future: a still uncreated site whose moral architecture is founded not on ownership and dispossession, the subjection of women, outcast and tribe, but on continuous redefining of freedom….
There is always that in poetry which will not be grasped, which cannot be described, which survives our ardent attention, our critical theories, our late-night arguments. (whole article here)
And perhaps it is this part of poetry that puts some people off. Because they can not discern ‘the’ meaning, or make rational sense of it, the poem is discarded. That’s a mistake: not to recognise that some of the magic of poetry is that it speaks to the part of our brain that does not deal in analytics, does not stand on solid ground and is not linear. When I was a young woman I read TS Eliot everyday – like some people might read their Bible. One day I was asked to host a visiting scholar and to take this man and his wife to see the sights of the beautiful coastal region in which I lived. In the course of the day’s conversation, he told me about being a student at a lecture given by TS Eliot in which Eliot said something about other people understanding his poetry more than he himself did; that he didn’t always know exactly what he meant. This cheered me greatly and the remembrance of it allows me to give myself permission just to ‘sit with a poem’, to listen to it, feel it, see it and allow it to speak to me – to move me – and to take from it what resonates – without judgement – much like I would a painting. The poems I like best have layers and layers. They could say something different to me each time I come to them – and yet, at another level remain mysterious. Poetry comes from and connects mostly with the right side of the brain – our Western culture mostly privileges the left side of the brain. Jill Bolte-Taylor does an amazing job in talking and demonstrating (with a real brain) the difference in the way the two sides of the brain function in her TED talk (here if video below missing)
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Anyway, Happy World Poetry Day!
I’m going to finish this post with a fun poem, that is not too hard to grasp, written by my beautiful friend John Pfitzner (1942-2013)
for Graham, who is mad on sport
but sees no use for poetry
You’re right, there’s no point
to poetry. It’s as useless
as a Michael Clarke cover drive
with dancing footwork,
body balanced, head steady,
weight gliding to the front foot,
the almost lazy sweep of the bat,
the perfect timing and rhythm,
the flow of the follow-through,
the seemingly effortless elegance,
which changes nothing, adds nothing
to the sum of human knowledge,
rights no wrongs, cures no diseases,
provides no food for the starving,
as pointless as a poem
with language that dances down the pitch,
gives itself room and launches
its outrageous idea, its subtle
observation high over midwicket
and into the members stand
with perfect timing, rhythm and
seemingly effortless eloquence.