National Poetry Day 2005:
The Future

National Poetry Day 2005 looked into the future, with a poll to choose a poem for space, experiments to explore the future of poetry in the Poetry Laboratories, and events around the country.

A Poem for Space:

Human Beings 
by Adrian Mitchell

(for the company of the truthful and beautiful Red Red Shoes
by Charles Way, staged by the Unicorn Theatre for Children)

      look at your hands
your beautiful useful hands
      you're not an ape
   you're not a parrot
you're not a slow loris
   or a smart missile
      you're human

      not british
   not american
      not israeli
not palestinian
   you're human

      not catholic
not protestant
   not muslim
      not hindu
you're human

we all start human
   we end up human
      human first
         human last
      we're human
   or we're nothing

nothing but bombs
   and poison gas
nothing but guns
   and torturers
nothing but slaves
of Greed and War
if we're not human

         look at your body
with its amazing systems
of nerve-wires and blood canals
   think about your mind
which can think about itself
   and the whole universe

      look at your face
which can freeze into horror
      or melt into love
   look at all that life
      all that beauty
      you're human
   they are human
   we are human
let's try to be human

      dance!

Human Beings by Adrian Mitchell 
from The Shadow Knows: Poems 2000-2004 (Tarset: Bloodaxe, 2004)

The Poetry Laboratories

The Poetry Laboratories explored the future of poetry in various settings around the UK, as shown below:

Warrington Central Libraries hosted a laboratory that brought together libraries, young offenders' institutions, library poetry groups and schools. Poet Mike Garry worked with young men from Thorncross Young Offenders' Institution to investigate, through writing poems, the theme of the Future. They linked up with a local school and Warrington Central Library's dynamic poetry reading group. 

The Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle-upon-Tyne put five poets together with fifteen scientists to communicate their subject area, through poetry, to a lay audience. Their experiments were demonstrated at an event on 6 October 2005.

The Poetry Society followed this by holding The Poetry and Science Conference in Newcastle in May, at the Lit & Phil Library. This was followed by an evening reading with Maureen Almond and W. N. Herbert.

We also developed a list of poetry and science-related books, projects and websites.

  • West Midlands: Spoken word poets of the future

An exchange between Birmingham poets and the Poetry Society's young Poetry Slambassadors focused on the future generation of spoken word artists. This Poetry Laboratory provided space to explore innovation in spoken word, peer workshopping, recording poetry, and professional development of writing and performance skills, but also focused on the similarities and differences between language and culture - a socio-political exchange, as well.

In Norwich, we discovered what happens when a poet - Rosemary Harris, in this instance - is combined repeatedly with Adult Learner Groups, hosted by the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library. Rosemary has since given us her preliminary laboratory instructions to post up on our website, should anyone else working in this field wish to conduct their own experiments.

According to the 2001 census, 30% (2.2 million) of London's residents were born outside England. Schoolteachers and headmasters are faced with the challenges of working in a city where over 300 languages are spoken. Taking up a challenge from a teacher from Tower Hamlets, who attended one of our Translation Events this year and spoke eloquently from the floor, we put poet Stephen Watts into a Tower Hamlet school with a Bangladeshi poet. There they explored issues of language and poetry translation (with a chance to introduce 'classic' poetry from another country into an environment where the original language resonated with students). We feel this work could be replicated in any number of schools and languages working with different poets and translators.

In the South East, poet Keith Bennett led research into the possibility of creating a poetry machine. A group of schools on the Isle of Wight were challenged to "design, build and operate a poetry machine" - they worked with a poet in their school to help provoke this approach to poetry. The results were paraded before an audience at Quay Arts Newport on 6 October 2005, hosted by the Poetry Society's Isle of Wight Stanza members.

  • South West (Truro): Virtual Poets 

In the South West, Zeeba Ansari worked with Cornwall Libraries and Victoria Field in Cornish schools, to find ways of working with "virtual poets".

Satellite Laboratories

  • Peace in their time? This satellite explored what happens when primary pupils use poetry to explore the Perfect Future.
  • Is language, and poetry in particular, based on music?  The results of this experiment were showcased in an event, featuring Poetry Society chair Ruth Padel with musicians, neuroscientists and an archaeologist.
  • What are the effects of unexpected poetry? Eva Salzman attempted some Random Acts of Poetry to find out.
  • What are Regional Poet Laureates? This satellite went digging around the country to find out more about regional poet laureates - who and where they are, what they do and how they do it.