National Poetry Day 2007

Jo Bell talks to Jules Mann about her thoughts behind this year's ethos and events

The 14th annual National Poetry Day (NPD) invites everyone to explore the theme of dreams on Thursday 4 October 2007. 

The original consortium partners of NPD were Poetry Society, Forward Arts and Colman Getty PR in 1994. This year marks a new direction, thanks to Forward Arts stepping in to raise new funds for the project to ensure its future. They have hired a new national co-ordinator this year: Cheshire Poet Laureate Jo Bell. Here at the Poetry Society, as we often say, “every day is National Poetry Day” and we will continue to play a leading role in supporting NPD. It is our common desire that this day introduces more people each year to the enjoyment of poetry, and that their interest is nourished by schemes such as membership of the Poetry Society.   

Jules Mann and Jo Bell chatted by email about the campaign this year and Jo’s future ambitions for it ...  

JULES: Jo, can you tell us the first time you heard about NPD? 

JO: By the time I started working in poetry NPD was already a real fixture in the calendar. Like many people, my first contact with it was almost subliminal – you hear about it on the radio or in the library, and it reminds you how much you love poetry when it’s put in front of you. My mission now is to bring it to the attention of the non-converted; the people who feel excluded because poetry is ‘difficult’ or who see it as literary muesli – good for them but not especially pleasurable. 

JULES: Now that you’re co-ordinating the entire national campaign, what strikes you as the most exciting aspect of the project? 

JO: It’s massively exciting. First, I want to put the National in National Poetry Day, which is sometimes perceived as too centralised. We’re making a start by getting our poet-in-residence, Ian McMillan, to appear in both London and Sheffield on the day. I’ve been travelling the country to meet poets and policy-makers. We’re starting to use new media so that people can hear, see and link to poets as well as read them on the page. 

JULES: We always say NPD is for everyone. How would you celebrate it if you live in a small rural village without broadband connection?  

JO: Blimey, if we were entirely internet-dependent we would fail to reach much of our potential audience! Small events in libraries, village halls and pubs are absolutely key to the success of NPD. The poetry scene is more vibrant, varied and lively than ever before, and you should find something near you in your local council events leaflet, your nearest theatre, and quite possibly the pub – there’s a thriving scene of Poems’n’Pints across the country. If there isn’t anything, then organise something yourself, using guidelines that we will put up on our website soon. A simple poetry reading evening, an open mic where everyone gets the chance to stand up – or invite a local poet to run a workshop for you. Why not have a village competition on our theme of dreams and post the results on the village noticeboard? 

JULES: And on the other hand, computers have allowed such democratic access to people around the world… is your vision for this year – and future National Poetry Days – taking advantage of this? 

JO: Yes it is. We’re not hitching our wagon solely to the internet, but it is a fantastic tool for reaching a lot of people quickly (and cheaply, if we’re honest). For instance, our secondary schools pack will be entirely online this year, and will include music downloads and video clips that we could only do online. I also think that a lot of people – even immensely literate and well-read people – are excluded from poetry because they find it difficult or bewildering on the page. Giving them access to good audio recordings of poetry via a download or podcast will be a vital way in for them. We’re collaborating with an online gallery, Filmwasters, and others to make best use of computers this year, and this will expand in future years.   

JULES: What are your ambitions for NPD’s future, not just next year but particularly looking ahead to National Poetry 2009 (which will, of course, coincide with the Poetry Society's Centenary Year)?  

JO: My ambitions are vast… NPD should be a big hook, onto which we can hang the other 364 days’ worth of hard work in the poetry firmament. It’s one day in the year when we can draw the nation’s attention to the poetry scene. I have big (and secret) plans for next year, when we should have a theme and location that will galvanise national interest; and by 2009 I hope NPD will be stronger, better-known, sustainable and above all entirely enjoyable for all who take part.   

To find out what’s going on in your area, contact your local Stanza, visit the NPD website (www.nationalpoetryday.org.uk) or give your local literature development officer, at the council, a ring – or the local library, who are often at the hub of NPD. 

Don’t miss our Dream Tour – four poets on the road from 1–4 October, travelling across four nations to celebrate poetry and dreams and National Poetry Day 2007. The poets are Gwyneth Lewis, Robert Crawford, Patience Agbabi and Gearoid Mac Lochlainn. 
 
Tour dates: 
Monday, 1 Oct – Arts Theatre, London 
Tuesday, 2 Oct – Wales  Millennium Centre, Cardiff Bay 
Wednesday, 3 Oct – Scottish  Storytelling Centre, Edinburgh 
Thursday, 4 Oct – Belfast (venue tbc)