Updated: Sep 16
National Poetry Day, in 2021 was on Thursday 7th March 2021. It was an annual event that, made me think of a fantastic poetical experience I saw on TV at the beginning of that year.
On Wednesday 20th January 2021, in the middle of a world-wide pandemic called Covid-19; a Mr Joe Biden, became the 46th President of the United States of America.
His inauguration gave me a glimpse of someone who is relatively new to us all. She is vibrant and extremely noteworthy and touched me in ways that is definitely needed right now.
The person I'm talking about is America's first-ever National Poet Laureate; Ms Amanda Gorman.
She is just what is needed to secure my thoughts that poetry rocks!
As she stood on a podium in Washington D.C, surrounded by dignitaries and V.I.P's; she began to wax lyrically...
She looked resplendent in her fantastic yellow coat and shiny red headband; she was for me a literal and metaphorical symbol of a bright and positive beacon; full of hope in a world where things seem so uncertain right now. It was clear that this woman meant business. I was mesmerised by her words; her dignity and the message she conveyed to us through the spoken word that is poetry.
In her poem; The Hill We Climb she spoke her words so eloquently and beautifully;
"When day comes, we ask ourselves where can we find light in this never-ending shade?...We've braved the belly of the beast. We've learned that quiet isn't always peace"
Her words were so relevant, so poignant and resonated with me a great deal. This was only a small peak of the glittering jewel that is Ms Gorman. I won't grace you anymore with my humdrum interpretation of her poem. It's worth much more than that.
I implore you to watch her perform it online and experience for yourself what I'm talking about, by clicking the link below:
It's clear that Amanda Gorman's world is on the uprise and I'm really looking forward to seeing what she does in the near future...
Aside from this; I love the fact that in the states, poetry and the spoken word is so often promoted as a way of expression and in the world of education. American poets and essayists such as Maya Angelou and Edgar Allen Poe are studied and held in high regard, before and well after a student leaves education and enters the world of work. Poetry there; seems to be a way of life.
Even, The Simpsons cartoon, has done a rendition of the American poet, Edgar Allan Poe's The Raven, in an episode where they make a whole drama out of his poem.
This genius interpretation of The Raven, sees Bart as The Raven and Homer suffering the relentless torment of Bart when he keeps repeating the word; "Nevermore"
"Quoth the Raven, Nevermore"
It's perfectly narrated by the American actor; James Earl Jones, who is renowned for his many acting and theatre plaudits, in an episode entitled; The Treehouse of Horror https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bLiXjaPqSyYhttps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Treehouse_of_Horror_(The_Simpsons_episode)
This episode always makes me chuckle!
Maya Angelou, was an American poet, writer, and civil rights activist who has always been my muse for the longest time and her words continue to influence my life long after her passing in 2014. https://www.mayaangelou.com/
Her poetry is held in high regard which demonstrates for me a natural and candid look at life and always gives you a positive way of thinking and looking at the world.
That's how poetry works. The power of the spoken word has the ability to launch you into deep thought, make you laugh and make you think.
However, when I look at how poetry is portrayed over here in the UK, it's often considered to be a genre not for the masses. Usually it's only given precedent if you are studying it for an exam usually at school; or generally people berate poetry and act as if it's the posh relative who is just showing off with words that don't always make sense; never mind rhyme.
While National Poetry Day is a great thing, I wish I could see poetry in the UK promoted beyond just a day or two. (How many of us knew that it was World Poetry Day on Sunday 21 March 2021 this year?)
In 2020, I loved seeing the Nationwide Building Society Ads, which featured down to earth people performing endearing, funny and sometimes thought-provoking short pieces of poetry; all with a theme designed to promote the home and the said company in an historical way.
Mingled in between all of these ads was Birmingham's Poet Laureate (from 2012-2013); Stephen Morrison-Burke, who wrote and performed his poem written for the ad in 2018, called The Birth of the Building Society. If I blinked at the beginning of the ad, I would have missed who it was by and even I didn't realise this short, lovely poem was performed by a former Poet Laureate who is so talented.
Stephen Morrison-Burke in the Nationwide Ad.
After I saw Stephen Morrison-Burke perform this poem, I wanted to know more about this great spoken word poet and explore more hidden gems he had created. I then found on YouTube, his performance of a poem entitled; Wish List. This poem speaks volumes and communicates a reality in a way that hits the soul. You'll find him performing it here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-Ww-ZwFSQs
Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying that poetry doesn't exist in the UK, I'm just saying it needs more accolades and more recognition and it should be VALUED as a crucial way to express our feelings, when other gestures seem to be impenetrable in hitting the truth and capturing the moment.
Indeed, it always brightens my day if I'm on the tube and greeted by one of the Poems on the Underground often displayed above my head. I believe now, more than ever; poetry is such a crucial way to lift our spirits and capture the moments when mere words won't do.
Dame Carol Ann Duffy was the UK's Poet Laureate for ten years and her poems currently feature on many a GCSE and A-Level English Literature exam paper. She has given us a collection of poems that hits the Zeitgeist so perfectly and gives us so much food for thought.
Indeed, her poem Prayer; seems perfectly apt right now in life during these covid times and forms the January 2021 collection of; Poems on the Underground, which quotes on its website:
"Poetry has never seemed more necessary to us as a source of hope and consolation".
I'm inclined to agree with this statement.
"Some days, although we cannot pray, a prayer utters itself...Some nights, although we are faithless, the truth enters our hearts" Carol Ann Duffy
Prayer: Carol Ann Duffy (You Tube) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MaymvwSp1Nw
Duffy's poem, Prayer tells us that even those who don't have a particular faith, can still find a way to put our hands together and hope for better times; and prayer may bring some sort of comfort when we take part in this meditative ritual. I don't claim to be that religious, but Duffy's words have hit a moment that gives hope for brighter days to come.
Our new and current Poet Laureate is Simon Armitage; he began his tenure in 2019. Just like Duffy, there are quite a few of his poems that sit comfortably in the GCSE and A-Level English Literature curriculum.
Armitage has a talent for producing poems that take as its subject, things that seem quite ordinary and then he finds a way to communicate through poetry those thoughts that are most prominent in our minds and our feelings; thus developing a poignancy to reflect our current times.
One of the Poet Laureate poems he has produced is called All Right? This poem was written to launch UK Northern Rail's; Suicide Prevention Campaign and to coincide with Mental Health Awareness Week in 2019, and was also promoted by Rochdale's Online newspaper. https://www.rochdaleonline.co.uk/news-features/2/news-headlines/127818/northerns-suicide-prevention-scheme-is-%E2%80%9Call-right%E2%80%9D
It brought to the fore an awareness of this difficult to talk about subject and had a deep, but simplistic message beautifully read by the actor, Mark Addy; in a hugely touching and profound way.
All Right? Simon Armitage, Read by Mark Addy
It's such a pity that my thoughts about poetry are not echoed by the powers that be and those in charge of education in the UK. Indeed, I was really dismayed to learn that the government even considered downgrading poetry during the breakout of covid in 2020 and making it an optional subject on the GCSE English Literature curriculum, in a way to enable students to 'catch-up' more quickly when studying for this course.
Armitage believes this would be a "Dangerous first step" and has alluded to the fact that if this happens, poetry may be eradicated from school exams altogether. https://www.theguardian.com/books/2020/aug/08/simon-armitage-poetry-gcse
I'm inclined to agree with him that a huge injustice would befall our future students who will take an English Literature course if this should happen.
It would be a travesty if poetry was lost from schools in this way. There are so many new and wonderful poets out there in the UK; pushing the spoken word out there and making it still relevant and needed in our lives.
It therefore, seems apt in homage to this and National Poetry Day, that I dedicate my last couple of paragraphs to list some of the poets I feel we need to applaud loudly, in a way to keep poetry ALIVE, PRESENT AND AT THE FORE in our minds. They deserve YOUR attention.
So click the links; listen, read, share and find out more...
BTW: This list is NOT my definitive list! I wanted to put more poets on here, but I needed to stop somewhere!
Here is my short list:
Katrina Naomi: It seems appropriate that I take this opportunity to 'boast' about having known this poet. Katrina Naomi was my Creative Writing tutor when I was studying for my Literature degree some years ago. She doesn't know it, but her encouragement and inspirational teaching was memorable. Her love of poetry and writing has had a huge influence on my life and has fuelled my increased passion to write, as well as my continued love of poetry and creative writing. Thanks Katrina!
You'll find her reading her poem; Boasting Sonnet by clicking the link here:
Two poets that I'm watching carefully and I hope to see more of is; George The Poet and Kate Tempest. Both of these talented poets speak a realism which we are perhaps living right now. George Mpanga's (George The Poet) words in his poem; Corona Virus tells us;
"We are internationally connected and this brings us close as can be expected."
George The Poet: Corona Virus: THE POWER OF COLLABORATION
Kate Tempest: Really speaks to me right now with her spoken words. This poem; People's Faces is delivered perfectly and is quietly poignant and soothing. Catch it here: Kate Tempest- Peoples Faces (live), feat: Clare Uchima (keys) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9y0V0ro2Nf0
Last, but not least is one of my favourite poets from my childhood; the delightful Roger McGough!
His poem, Tomorrow Has Your Name on It; is just perfect for you to experience for the first time, or to revisit again.
So, what are you waiting for? Go out there. Find a piece of poetry that fits you. Enjoy it, read it and feel it and share the word!
National Poetry Day 2021- Thursday 7th October 2021
World Poetry Day 2021- Sunday 21st March 2021
Poetry is great. Poetry rocks!
© SjS 2021