This week, I’m completing an online course, William Wordsworth: Poetry, People, and Place. Offered by Lancaster University in partnership with the Wordsworth Trust, the course has submersed me in Wordsworth’s poetry for the past three weeks. I’ve analyzed several of his poems, listened to academic experts, learned about manuscripts and how it was only in the Romantic period that writers and poets began to hold on to the various drafts, written short essays for critique by other participants, assembled and reassembled poems, and studied how the geography of the Lake District influenced Wordsworth.
If I extrapolate from the number of comments, I would guess that up to a thousand of us are taking this course, and from all over the world. Wordsworth in particular and British poetry in general has a sizable fan base. And it’s no surprise that poetry is vitally important in Britain.
Next week—Thursday, Oct. 6, to be precise—Britain celebrates National Poetry Day, and Tweetspeak Poetry is teaming up with the Forward Arts Foundation to promote the day and vice versa (Forward is promoting the October 5th Random Acts of Poetry Day), to truly make the week a poetic experience from one side of the pond to the other. The Forward Arts Foundation is an organization that celebrates excellence in poetry and works to widen poetry’s audience. National Poetry Day is one of its official initiatives. It also sponsors the annual Forward Poetry Prizes. The theme of this year’s poetry day celebration is “Messages.”
Poetry is indeed serious business in Britain. London Transport even posts poems on the Underground, or Tube.
Since high school, British literature has been one of my great loves. In college, I was allowed to take two semesters of English lit in place of the required American literature courses for sophomores. I read a considerable amount of English poetry as my business career grew to include speechwriting as a major component.
Last year while on vacation in England, I joined a guided walking tour of the London of John Keats. Some 12 of us met on a brilliant Saturday morning at the Hampstead Tube station, and, led by expert guide Anita Miller, we walked and occasionally jogged all over Hampstead and Hampstead Heath, listening, learning, questioning, and experiencing “Keats Country.” I had hoped to take the guided T.S. Eliot walk in London’s central business district (“The City”), but a bad cold precluded that. I was able to attend the launch of a new annotated edition of the poems of Eliot at the British Library, two days before we flew home.
I was in Britain during 2015’s U.K.’s National Poetry Month and National Poetry Day. It was a big deal. I learned that many of the country’s newspapers still publish poems (most U.S. newspapers stopped the practice after the World War II years). Poetry is widely covered as news. A special all-poetry book festival and sale is held. Poetry prizes are announced (the American poet Claudia Rankine won one of Forward Poetry Prizes last October). Activities are held all over London and Britain, and London’s Southbank Centre, on the south bank of the Thames and near the Waterloo train and Tube stations, serves as a major focal point for poetry activities. The Centre is also home to the National Theatre and the Poetry Library, and has a bookstore filled with plays, fiction, and poetry.
Given its size and significance, it’s no surprise that London can support a poetry industry. But the nation as a whole has long embraced poetry as a kind of national pastime. The Poetry Society sponsors readings and events all over Britain; poets’ homes (like Wordsworth’s Dove Cottage) have been preserved and opened as museums. Edinburgh maintains the Scottish Poetry Library. Literature Wales promotes both the written and spoken forms of poetry. Poetry Northern Ireland helps promote poetry there; one of my favorite poets, the late Seamus Heaney, is a native and a new arts center celebrating his life and work opens this weekend in Bellaghy, his hometown in County Derry.
National Poetry Day includes a multitude of activities—and you can participate wherever you are in the world. You can share a poem, write a poem with the Poetry School, browse an e-zine at the Poetry Library, join a Pass on a Poem group, and remember a poem with Poetry by Heart. You can listen to a poet at the Poetry Archive, and watch a poet on the Poetry Station. The Forward Arts Foundation also has a number of publications for individuals and schools. Follow National Poetry Day on Twitter (@PoetryDayUK), with #NationalPoetryDay as the hashtag.
So join us next week, as we help celebrate National Poetry Day.
Free National Poetry Day Book of 5 Ideas