National Poetry Day (NPD to its friends) is essentially a PR campaign for poetry, we’re in the business of image control. Poetry is so much more than the pervasive image that somehow formulates about it. You know, lying on the banks of the river Wye recalling Wordsworth with fold away camping chairs and twin thermoses. I thought poetry was only read by that person, that it only spoke to that person, that it was only for that person. But then it spoke to me.
Poetry can capture a moment, and right now, it feels like several moments are happening all at once. This summer, the river Wye went down to 2cm due to drought. Pakistan just flooded. What would Wordsworth have to say about all this?
The theme of this year’s NPD is The Environment, a germane topic for a poetry event. Not only because poetry has an ability to capture nature’s fleeting beauty perhaps better than any other art form but also because it is a topic that is at the forefront of young people’s minds.
Young people today are angry about the way in which more and more aspects of their future are being mortgaged away. How can poetry help capture or channel these global emergencies which are rolling down onto their shoulders?
What we hope to forge through NPD is the connection between young people and poetry that lasts a lifetime.
Anyone reading this blog probably already knows what we are talking about – the first poem that got you and spoke to you all through your wilfully-sceptical-deliberately-scathing-secretly-in-love teenage brain. The feeling of YES! I AGREE! THAT’S IT! Young people deserve their poetry to say that to them now. We hope we can help them find that.
In all the poems we have featured on our website, there is a shared consciousness very different to Wordsworth’s ripening memory kind. The poems speak to us about the emergencies unfolding around us and fuse the micro and macro, the way that poetry can. Not far from the Wye, a glut of ripe apples hits the ground untasted due to a lack of pickers in ‘What was left in the Orchard’ by Rhiannon Hooson, a literal economic symptom of Covid. Joseph Coelho writes about the denial of childhood experience with the decline of amphibians in ‘February’. Malika Booker explores the impact of our colonial past through the quintessentially British wood ‘Mahogany’. They’re all nuanced and multi-faceted and ripe for young minds to interpret. And as always, there are resources for school staff to use from our poetry and education wunderkind partners.
We hope to inspire action this NPD too.
We’ve partnered with Greenpeace and will run the first ‘Poems for the planet’ competition open to all ages. There’s a legacy of poetry and protest and we hope to spotlight this via this competition.
Our call to action this year is poems of praise and protest – we want to see poems in praise of those doing something about the environmental crisis and poems complaining about what still needs to be done.
We know that poetry is an active, living form. And, who knows, maybe some of these poems will inspire action in others or will find their way to those who can make a difference.
We need your help to make this NPD bigger and better than it’s ever been before. We really need to do right by our young people particularly when it comes to this topic.
All I know is that, even though most of those people probably don’t own deckchairs, it’s a good thing poetry is for them.
Jay Bhadricha is the National Poetry Day Manager at the Forward Arts Foundation. He joined Forward from First Story, where he was their Editorial and Content Manager, responsible for publishing all their anthologies and overseeing their digital content. He has held a variety of roles including Regional Programme Officer, working in Operations, and Project Management for Granta Books.