This year's National Poetry Day is biggest yet as your appetite to share a poem surges under lockdown
Date published: 09 July 2020
Online poetry performances by actors Andrew Scott, Patrick Stewart and Helena Bonham Carter have drawn audiences exceeding 20 million since March
A bumper crop of citizen poet-performers will be the stars of this year’s National Poetry Day, after four months of lockdown prompted the public to seek out and share poems on an unprecedented scale.
While online poetry performances by actors Andrew Scott, Patrick Stewart and Helena Bonham Carter have drawn audiences exceeding 20 million since March, the nation’s secret poets are responding with gusto to an ongoing invitation to use poems to keep in touch with old friends and make new ones.
After hundreds of libraries encouraged their communities to post their lockdown thoughts and feelings in haiku form with the hashtag #haiflu, the team responsible for National Poetry Day on October 1 are now looking for the UK’s most poetic region, measured in the number of local poetry sharing events – performances, open-mics and slams.
Already, libraries from more than 50 local authorities, from Fife to the Isle of Wight, are pledged to organise celebrations on the day, both online and off.
The challenge, open to library authorities across the UK, is just one of several initiatives foregrounding poetry’s power to connect people, whether in groups or online, from the hugely popular LoveReading4Kids poetry prize, open to children between seven and 11, to Gyles Brandreth’s Poetry Together, in which primary schools pair up virtually with local care homes to recite poems.
Brandreth’s own daily Twitter recitals of favourite poems, many from his anthology, Dancing by the Light of the Moon, have drawn 1.65 million views since March.
He said: “People have been washing their hands while reciting 20-second poems and lifting their spirits with longer ones.
“It’s clear from social media that poetry has had an amazing impact during the pandemic, offering solace and inspiration. People have been reading poetry, writing poetry, learning it by heart.
"It’s been a grim time in so many ways, but there’s no question; the pick-me-up of poetry has made a powerful and positive difference.”
The 2020 campaign to mark National Poetry Day, the UK’s annual mass celebration of poetry in all its forms, highlights a list of 40 inspiring new poetry books from more than 20 publishers, with a focus on the pleasure of participation.
They include Slam, You’re Gonna Wanna Hear This, edited by international poetry sensation Nikita Gill, which shares tips from prize-winning performers on bringing audiences to their feet with a snappy set, Poems Aloud, edited by best-selling children’s poet Joseph Coelho, and How to Grow A Poem by teacher Kate Clanchy, whose teenage students have featured on the BBC, Channel Four and Sky, as well as hearing their words performed by the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales.
The 2020 recommended poetry books list is bigger than ever before, reflecting a bulge in poetry publishing this autumn, and reinforcing National Poetry Day’s displacement of Valentine’s Day as the occasion to buy and give poems.
The steep growth in UK poetry sales in the six years between 2013 and 2019 from £6.7m to £12m+, plus the genre’s appeal to young, diverse audiences has also seen poetry repositioned as an art that provokes debate on issues close to the hearts of the ‘demonstration generation’ – inequality, prejudice and climate change.
Visitors to the National Poetry Day website have more than doubled since March 2020, further suggesting that many have been finding solace in poetry.
A recent survey by the National Literacy Trust found that a fifth of UK children have written more poetry during lockdown, and that those children who write to make themselves feel better are five times more likely to choose poetry than any other form of writing.
To find out more about National Poetry Day and its many elements, events and resources, visit: nationalpoetryday.co.uk
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