04 October 2012

National Poetry Day

In the two days since I heard about it, National Poetry Day morphed in my mind into World Poetry Day. This latter used to be celebrated on 15 October - the birthday not only of Virgil but also of my dear friend Rita, but has now been moved to 21 March.

Today we'll have to be content with "national" - the theme this year, says the website, is stars - and after all there are a lot of British poets to be read. Or, better - memorised - however transiently, however imperfectly. A poem becomes a companion, after all, even if it can't be perfectly recited on demand. So I've been repeatedly declaiming (to the empty room) a short poem by Kipling, from "the epitaphs of war" - nicely ironic yet oh so sad, it's called  A Dead Statesman:

I could not dig: I dared not rob:
Therefore I lied to please the mob.
Now all my lies are proved untrue
And I must face the men I slew.
What tale shall serve me here among
Mine angry and defrauded young?

I found the poem, rather randomly, in one of my favourite poetry anthologies -
It was published in 1996, for the 10th anniversary of Poems on the Underground. This version is illustrated with a selection of "poetic" travel posters, such as these by John Farleigh (who is best known for his wood engravings) -
I was already living in London at the very start of Poems on the Underground ... and still love to come across a poem when travelling, rereading it in the hope it will stick in memory, or I copy it into my book - such as this one by Guyanese poet John Agard, encountered on 24 April (at the start of my sonnet-memorisation-and-overwriting project - it seemed like a good omen). It can be found in World Poems on the Underground -
Toussaint L’Ouverture Acknowledges Wordsworth’s Sonnet
 ‘To Toussaint L’Ouverture’ 
I have never walked on Westminster Bridge 
or had a close-up view of daffodils. 
My childhood’s roots are the Haitian hills 
where runaway slaves made a freedom pledge 
and scarlet poincianas flaunt their scent. 
I have never walked on Westminster Bridge 
or speak, like you, with Cumbrian accent. 
My tongue bridges Europe to Dahomey. 
Yet how sweet is the smell of liberty 
when human beings share a common garment. 
So, thanks brother, for your sonnet’s tribute. 
May it resound when the Thames’ text stays mute. 
And what better ground than a city’s bridge 
for my unchained ghost to trumpet love’s decree. 

If you are non-UK or non-London or non-Underground-travelling, you can click on a link at the bottom of this page to read a random poem from the archive. Or maybe there's a "poetry in motion" project on the transport system where you live?

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