National Poetry Day 2011

It’s a little surprising to learn that National Poetry Day has only been with us since 1994. Given that verse can be traced back centuries you’d have thought someone would have come up with a reason to celebrate it well before then. But perhaps even more surprising is that the novel has only been officially celebrated since 1999 and typical of the bias towards fiction, this gets a full thirty one days of celebration each July in the form of National Novel Writing Month (which has the worst acronym of all time – NaNoWriMo). This internet-based creative writing project challenges scribes to pen 50,000 words, so I guess you could legitimately argue that the extra allotted time is more of a necessity than a bias.

On the other hand, the position of Poet Laureate has been afforded far more prestige and can be traced back to King James 1st when he created the position (as we know it today) for Ben Jonson in 1617. However, as is often the case with British history, there’s some ambiguity about specifics with evidence suggesting that Geoffrey Chaucer (1340 – 1400) was actually the first to receive the accolade when he was given ten shillings and an annual allowance of wine in 1389 to entertain King Henry 1st. Yet there is no such thing as a Novelist Laureate so this could be seen as another rare victory for poetry over fiction.

It’s also been a good year for poetry with regards to awards, with Mark Goodwin taking the inaugural East Midlands Book Award. It’s not often you see a poet usurp a novelist when it comes to prizes although having Ian McMillan on the judging panel would have helped.

So if you’d like to celebrate National Poetry Day this year, the theme set by Jo Bell – the NPD Director – is ‘Games.’ No big surprise here given that London (not Britain) is soon to benefit a massive cash injection from the Olympics. But forget sport and interpret this more widely, think of all the games politicians have been playing with our lives, that bankers have been playing with our money. Think of the games you have to play on the phone when you try to ring up someone at the bank and get held up in queues or sent from department to department. These are the kind of games I’d like to hear about so if you’re interested, then get down to Speakers’ Corner in Nottingham City Centre between 3-5pm. LeftLion have hooked up with The Nottingham Writers’ Studio to drag along as many poets as possible to have a poetical rant. Remember, we’re the only city outside of the Big Smoke to have this unique place dedicated to free speech so please join us.

Two other events going on locally include, ‘Breaking the Silence Open Mic’ at Central Library (11am 3pm). This is hosted by Mouthy Poets so expect something out of the ordinary. Rumour has it that they’ll be combining their poems with a DJ and if past performances are anything to go by, they’ll be expecting full audience participation. Alternatively, Mathew Welton has requested people bring six copies of their favourite poems to Trent Building, Room A46, University of Nottingham (68pm) to continue the celebration into the evening.

If you’ve read this blog early in the morning, then tune into BBC Radio Nottingham at 8.50am and you’ll hear Aly Stoneman roaring for LeftLion and explaining more about the Speakers’ Corner event.