Poetry Society: 6 October 2005

A poem for peace and racial tolerance wins the Poem for Space Poll for National Poetry Day 2005

" think about your mind

which can think about itself

and the whole universe"

From Adrian Mitchell's 'Human Beings'

Adrian Mitchell's 'Human Beings' has been voted the poem that people most want to send into space in the hope that it will be read in one hundred years' time, in a poll for National Poetry Day, Thursday 6 October.

Just under a thousand people voted in the 'Poem for Space' poll which was launched to mark this year's futuristic theme for National Poetry Day. 'Human Beings', with its theme of tolerance across cultural divides, will be unveiled by Ian McMillan, Poet Laureate for Derby, Leicester and Nottingham, at the National Space Centre, Leicester where it will be displayed outside the space theatre on National Poetry Day. The Poetry Society continues to investigate ways to launch the poem into space!

Adrian Mitchell's poem won 30% of 'Poem for Space' votes. Visitors to the Poetry Society website were given the option to vote for any poem of their choosing, or to pick one of the eight poems suggested by the Poetry Society. Twelve per cent of votes came from overseas including New Zealand, Jamaica and Nigeria.

Adrian Mitchell says of his win:

"I'm very excited that so many people have voted for my poem. 'Human Beings' is a poem for peace. It is about the joy of being human, but that doesn't mean that it's against animals or alien beings. When it goes into space and it's read by aliens, I'd hate for them to think that it's anti alternative life forms."

Steve Vesse from the National Space Centre, where 'Human Beings' will be displayed, says:

"The winning poem reminds us all that we're all the same and all capable of learning more about our universe. We look forward to displaying the poem. We hope this will encourage young people to express themselves in poetry and learn more about space."

Astronomer Sir Patrick Moore adds:

"If the Martians can translate this and interpret it, it will give them an interesting view of human nature!"

Seth Shostak, senior astronomer at the Seti (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute in California, comments:

"Contemporary writers often dwell on the down-side of our behaviour - war, environmental degradation - and make the assumption that these regrettable tendencies would somehow be of interest to the aliens. Adrian Mitchell's poem is very evocative, although it seems rather more suitable for a human audience than one consisting of extraterrestrials. Consequently, we should either apologize or express the hope that some way we will improve."

Human Beings was one of eight contemporary poems to be nominated by the Poetry Society. The other seven poems were:

  • John Agard – Earthwalk
  • Moniza Alvi – Homesick for the Earth
  • Eavan Boland – Night feed
  • Sheenagh Pugh – Do You Think We'll Ever Visit the Earth, sir?
  • John Hegley – Forever Roman
  • Edwin Morgan – The First Men on Mercury
  • Eva Salzman – Promising

Poll visitors were also invited to suggest alternative poems. Votes for the poll came in from poets and scientists alike, including nominations from Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, Stephen Fry, author Dava Sobel and biophysicist Dr Mark Lythgoe. Simon Singh, science writer and broadcaster, suggested the opening lines of Auguries of Innocence by William Blake.

This year National Poetry Day will be marked by a series of nine Poetry Laboratories around the country in addition to hundreds of regional events. School children, library-goers, adult learners and university students across the country will be invited to participate in a series of Poetry Laboratories. They will explore links between poetry and science, experiment with translation and languages, contribute to digital and web-based poetry projects, and above all benefit from working directly with poets. The 'labs' will be held in nine regions or cities: Leeds, Cornwall, London, Manchester, Newcastle, Norfolk, Nottingham, the Isle of Wight and Birmingham. Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, Ruth Padel, Simon Armitage, David Harsent, Moniza Alvi, Elaine Feinstein, Lavinia Greenlaw, Adrian Mitchell, Robin Robertson, Colette Bryce, Hugo Williams and Dreadlock Alien will all be involved in events around the country for National Poetry Day.

- ENDS -

Notes to editors:

  •  Ever since Out Loud was published in 1968, Adrian Mitchell has been one of Europe's bestselling poets. His poetry's simplicity, clarity, passion and humour show his allegiance to a vital, popular tradition embracing William Blake as well as the Border Ballads and the blues. His most recent collection, The Shadow Knows, from which Human Beings is taken, was published in June 2004 by Bloodaxe.
  • The poll was conducted online at the Poetry Society website on www.poetrysociety.org.uk . Six out of ten of the voters were women, and one third of the votes came from school children and students.
  • National Poetry Day was launched in 1994 by William Sieghart of The Forward Arts Foundation and The Poetry Society to fuel the nation's enthusiasm for verse and to provide a platform for poets and poetry of all kinds.


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


from The Shadow Knows: Poems 2000-2004 (Tarset: Bloodaxe, 2004)

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