National Poetry Day: Reporting for Work

Jo Bell previews events and ideas for the annual, nationwide celebration of poetry on Thursday, 9 October

Shortly after launching the very first National Poetry Day in 1994, publisher William Sieghart received a letter congratulating him on this inaugural NPD. It was, according to the writer, “a great improvement on last year.” Since there had been no “last year”, Sieghart took the letter as a sign. Not only was there an appetite for a national celebration of poetry, but a belief that there must always have been one – so necessary, so authentic did it feel.

The fifteenth National Poetry Day falls on Thursday, 9 October and its theme is Work. For the millions who lose touch with poetry after their school years and only rediscover it in retirement, the workplace can be particularly prosaic. National Poetry Day wants to reclaim those lost years and bring poetry into offices, factories and kitchens.

A vibrant poster will be seen in workplaces as well as libraries, schools and other venues. From September, a selection of e-cards on the NPD website will allow thousands of people to send a poetic message for free, or to take a minute from their working day to read one. With support from organisations like the TUC, Amazon and British Waterways, we hope that as many people as possible who work at a computer screen will see a poem popping up.

One of the e-poems is by NPD poet in residence, Paul Farley. Gamely undertaking work placements in a power station, an apple farm and a canalside heritage site, the poet will write new commissions and keep an early-October blog. On National Poetry Day itself, he takes the stage for a keynote reading at the Bluecoat Centre in Liverpool, European Capital of Culture 08, alongside the Pulitzer-shortlisted ‘Nuyorican’ poet Martín Espada. Meanwhile, in the morning, poet Patience Agbabi presents ‘Blood, Sweat, Tears and Poetry’ on BBC Radio 4 at 11.30 am.

The NPD website brings to readers listings for local events, and poems to share via the e-cards scheme. New poets can target a wider audience using listings and links, and teachers can download lesson plans written by expert Andrew Fusek Peters. For librarians and others there are suggestions on how best to use the Work theme. We also link people to other organisations who provide poetry-related services.

After fifteen years of hard work, National Poetry Day is at a crucial point in its career. It is door into the poetry world through which all can pass: providing support for teachers struggling to convey the excitement of poetry, pointing out new work to readers in a rut, working closely with the Forward Prize team to highlight and promote the best living poets as well as those who went before. We have built stronger links with partners like the Poetry Society, Apples & Snakes and the Poetry Book Society; with the BBC and other broadcasters; with innumerable practitioners and experts across the UK. A lively, more integrated and inclusive poetry community depends on us all spreading the word about our partners’ work as well as our own. But a national celebration on this scale cannot survive on goodwill and iambic pentameter alone: we are actively fundraising and looking for sponsorship to support our campaign.

NPD continues to (re)connect people to poetry. It throws an annual spotlight on an art form which is free to make, easy to share and at which the UK excels. Like a birthday party, it draws attention once a year to something which deserves celebration all year round; we hope you agree that it’s worth the candle.

Read members’ poems on the Work theme 

Jo Bell is the NPD co-ordinator

Poetry News, Autumn 2008