Sunday 21 March was World Poetry Day. In 1999, UNESCO proclaimed the date to be World Poetry Day in order to recognize “the unique ability of poetry to capture the creative spirit of the human mind”. Activities throughout the world aim to celebrate poetry, its writing, performance and its use of language.
Although we’re a few days late, we wanted to bring you some of our recommendations for poetry collections, individual poets and poems that can be enjoyed all year round (alternatively, you could say we’re getting you prepared early for National Poetry Day which this year takes place on 7 October in the UK). We’d love to hear what poets and poetry inspire, captivate and enchant you so do let us know in the comments.
With the start of a new year, I always try to think of something new I can do or learn instead of making resolutions. This year was not that easy with the Lockdown restrictions, so my first choice of skydiving was sadly out of the picture. Then a certain website kept recommending a book to me.
With its gold lettering, my magpie tendencies were engaged. ‘A Poem for Every Day of The Year‘ – now here was something I could do every day and would take little effort. I’ve also been struggling recently to engage with books, so this seemed ideal. I was a little apprehensive though as the last time I had read poetry was Seamus Heaney for GCSE and I remember daydreaming a lot, but as it kept popping up, I took it as a sign.
Disclaimer time, it was only when writing this I discovered the book is actually meant for ages 9-12 but this is what makes it so great for newbies to poetry. It probably says a lot about me that one of my now favourite poems is about cutlery ice-skating, so with hindsight the signs were there!
This book is such a mix of beautiful verses – some made me laugh, others made me cry or sit quietly and reflect. Yes, others went completely over my head. Each one though I read aloud at least twice to try to get the rhythm of it and slowly I began to look forward to reading one every night before bed.
I recognised some of the poets, but was also surprised to see iconic entries such as Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech and the words of John Lennon and Paul McCartney. I had heard them many times before but reading them myself was like discovering them anew. I also gained a small insight into different cultures and ways of life, in the case of Ballard of the Totems, which painted such a vivid picture of family life I could picture myself there observing the madness.
So now for World Poetry Day I can say I like poetry and have a little list of favourites which might appeal to those who also think poetry is not for them. My favourite is a “proper” novelist who also wrote poetry – Charlotte Bronte. Who knows, I might even read Jane Eyre next!
While I might not be ready to delve into the world of serious poetry I’m pleased to discover other similar titles available through Warwickshire Libraries – there are collections called ‘Friends: A Poem for Every Day‘, ‘A Nature Poem for Every Day of The Year‘ & a Shakespeare edition in this same series, along with one called ‘A Poem For Every Night Of The Year‘. The series also has a Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter version too! I’m going to pledge to read all of these and if like me you are a little unsure of poetry, this would be a great starting point for children, adults, or families to read alone or together.
My favourites so far from ‘A Poem For Every Day Of The Year’:
Life by Charlotte Bronte
Rainbow by John Agard
I Have a Dream by Martin Luther King
The Midnight Skaters by Roger McGough
Ballad of the Totems by Oodgeroo Noonuccal (Kath Walker)
A Summing Up by Charles MacKay
All You Need Is Love by John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Friendship by Cole Porter
‘Alexa, what is there to know about love?‘ by Brian Bilston
I came across Brian Bilston on social media and then sought out his books. His poetry is quirky, original and accessible to all. Everyone should read Brian Bilston, even people who don’t like poetry – actually, especially people who don’t like poetry! His poems are often laugh out loud funny but can be political and timely or just beautifully bittersweet. One of my favourite poems is a perfect example of the latter entitled ‘There’s a supermarket where the library once stood’. For anyone who ever studied poetry at GCSE level, the fabulous ‘Unseen Poem, GCSE English Literature Paper 2’ can’t help but raise a smile.
I defy anyone to not find a poem that they enjoy in this collection.
The Collected Poems of Dylan Thomas by Dylan Thomas
I thought what better way to kick off my recommendations for World Poetry Day 2021 than to start with Dylan Thomas. He is something of a hero to me and my South Walian family. His words really evoke a strong personal nostalgia for people, places and time whenever I dip into his poetry (and short stories). My love for Dylan has taken me to many places of personal pilgrimage.
His writing shed and Boathouse at the stunning Laugharne in Carmarthenshire where you can hear the cormorants scudding on the River Tâf is poetry itself. It has to be said though, I went to Laugharne for Dylan Thomas but I stayed for the Welsh Tea you could get in the Boathouse café including Welsh Cakes, Bara brith and bread and butter with jam. Words couldn’t describe how happy I was.
Climbing the almost vertical road of Cwmdonkin Drive in Swansea will take you to Dylan’s boyhood house (Number 5) where he was born in 1914 and lived until 1937. His “Glamorgan Villa” as he called it looks out over Swansea Bay, with his bedroom restored to how it would have been complete with pictures of idols W.B. Yeats and T.S. Eliot tacked to the wall by his writing desk. This was a really intriguing peek into his formative years and my 2 year old daughter and I left the house babbling away at each other about anything and everything, much as I like to imagine Dylan and his parents doing all those years ago.
The White Horse Tavern in Manhattan, New York City was one of Dylan’s favoured pubs during his stay there but has come to be known as the drinking establishment where he drank (allegedly) 18 shots of whisky on 3rd November 1953 before falling into a coma and dying from pneumonia, amongst other ailments on 9th November 1953. The Tavern has been associated with other bohemian figures such as Jim Morrison and Jack Kerouac and has now become something of a shrine to Thomas- every wall has some framed something or other dedicated to him.
My father and I enjoyed a couple of drinks under a huge portrait of Dylan which depicted him propping up the bar, his drink-weary eyes staring out at you. The barman was delighted to know that ‘proper Welsh people’ (!) were in his bar. They had some merchandise you could buy like a White Horse Tavern baseball hat or t-shirt. They’d sold out of whisky shot glasses. There was a group of people doing a Sunday bar crawl which they were explaining to us that every Sunday at 11am they would get together and tour the local bars to catch up and unwind on the weekend. There was about 10 of them, aged roughly 50-60, cracking jokes and enjoying each other’s company, husbands and wives. It was superb Sunday afternoon entertainment. My Father and I finished our drinks and headed out into a crisp New York afternoon (to find the Chelsea Hotel related to our other hero, Leonard Cohen, but that’s a different story).
It’s funny really, you can go to Wales and USA on a Dylan Thomas trail but the guys doing their weekly pub catch up encapsulated the spirit of Dylan Thomas better than any building or landmark. It was overhearing snatches of conversations like this that helped influence Dylan’s fabulous play for voices, Under Milk Wood; laughter, love and gossip of a small Welsh fishing town.
Sharing and togetherness have been out of grasp recently, so let’s celebrate our need and want of it; after all this is what the spirit of World Poetry Day is all about too!
Listen to Dylan Thomas read one of my favourite poems Poem In October here.
Some of my other recommendations
Poems To Save The World With – Chosen by Chris Riddell (eBook)
This is the third collection of Chris Riddell’s poetry anthologies and is as equally as stunning as the first two. It’s a smart collection of hope inspiring poems, lovingly illustrated throughout. Riddell’s pictures go elegantly and capture the mood of the poems perfectly. Poems range from Neil Gaiman, Nikita Gill, Maggie Smith, Lewis Carroll and many more. It is absolutely glorious when word and image merge together like this.
Kumukanda by Kayo Chingonyi
Another link to Dylan Thomas: Chingonyi won the Dylan Thomas Prize in 2018 for his debut poetry collection. The prize is awarded by Swansea University for up and coming authors and poets. Kumukanda deals with initiations and the rites of passage for young men to adults based on the Luvale Tribe’s culture. It explores music, love and identity. Zambian born Chingonyi’s first collection is thought-provoking and honest.
Watch Kayo Chingonyi performing some of his poetry from Kumukanda here,
This is another debut poetry collection by performance poet Sophia Thakur. This collection is filled with hope, love and motivation. It deals with loving yourself and being kind, getting yourself through anxiety and never apologising for being yourself. It is bursting with witty one liners and confidence boosting prose. I loved every page.
Watch Sophia Thakur performing Somebody Give This Pen A Heart here.
I came across this poem at school and it meant something to me because it made me think of my granddad. He was still alive until I was in my early 20s, but he was always an old, old, granddad, and perhaps a little distant from us grandchildren.
He worked the land – right to the end. He was always outside, and he seemed to have a special bond with his horses. I used to love seeing him out in his vegetable plot (which was the size of a small field) or working and ‘talking’ with the horses. This poem conjured up images of him at work on his land as I sat in my stuffy classroom and tried to interpret the poem as the teacher thought we should, but for me – I could almost feel and smell ‘the polished sod’ and watch my grandad at work.