Monday musings on Australian literature: World Poetry Day
Well, folks, Trove has let me down, which is a very rare occurrence when I’m doing historical research. I looked for the phrase “world poetry day” and I looked for all the words “world”, “poetry” and “day”, but nothing apparently relevant appeared. Hmmm, because …
Interestingly, a Google search did retrieve a photograph on flickr of a World Poetry Day function held in 1963 Australia. The photograph says “all rights reserved” so I can’t reproduce it here, but you can see it online. Clearly World Poetry Day has been known about here for some time, but, oh dear, it’s only poetry so why write about it in the newspapers, eh?
I did find a few more recent references to the day via Google (using “world poetry day Australia”, without the double quotes), such as:
- an Australia Council for the Arts news item on World Poetry Day in 2013. The item says, among other the things, that the day is for us “to acknowledge the role of poets around the world who are unable to speak openly and freely and who strive to build a better world.” Amen to that.
- a news item from the United Nations Information Centre in Canberra on World Poetry Day in 2014 stating that “One of the main objectives of the Day is to support linguistic diversity through poetic expression and to offer endangered languages the opportunity to be heard within their communities” but it doesn’t list any activities planned to achieve this in 2014 Australia.
- an article in the Sydney Morning Herald titled “World Poetry Day 2015: a chance for children to embrace the power of words” but it doesn’t mention any events encouraging children to do just that.
- a World Poetry Day program (Eureka!) for the 2015 World Poetry Day, fun by the Queensland Poetry Festival. The web page starts with a William Hazlitt quote: “Poetry is the universal language which the heart holds with nature and itself. He who has a contempt for poetry, cannot have much respect for himself, or for anything else.” I don’t see anything for the 2016 day.
That’s pretty much it for the first page of results on my Google search. I guess these results tell me that Trove let me down for a reason. There really doesn’t seem to be much interest in the day here. Most of those links about seem more lip service than commitment, don’t they?
Before I continue, a brief explanation of World Poetry Day. According to Wikipedia (and some of the links above), it was designated as 21 March by UNESCO in 1999. The day, though, has been celebrated for much much longer, often in October to align with the birthday of the birth of the Roman poet Virgil. The UK, says Wikipedia, still celebrates it in October. There is a Facebook Page for World Poetry Day, but I can see nothing on it for Australia in 2016.
And yet, Australia – like many countries – has a rich poetic tradition. We have, to name a very very few, the bush balladists of the 19th century, early twentieth century poets like CJ Dennis and Dame Mary Gilmore, indigenous poets like Oodgeroo Noonuccal, later poets such as Judith Wright, Dorothy Porter and our grand old man Les Murray, and new poets-cum-rappers like Omar Musa*. We have poetry events and slams, poetry prizes, poetry websites, poetry magazines and poetry in literary magazines, and publishers specialising in poetry. I’ve written about many of these over the life of this blog. (See my poetry tag which tags all my poetry-related posts, not just Australian.)
Among the first works I read to my children when they were babies were poetry books – AA Milne (of course), Dr Seuss, TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, and poetry anthologies, of which I bought many. A favourite Australian one was Four and twenty lamingtons. And picture books too, many of which are told in verse. Poetry is such an easy way to introduce children to the fun of language and words and to reading together. Poetry like music is something you can introduce to babies from the beginning.
I’m going to keep this post short – give you an early mark this Monday! And, anyhow, I’m sure you’ve got my meaning.
But, just for a straw poll, no matter where you live, can you tell me whether you’ve heard of any World Poetry Day events in your neck of the woods?
* I hate naming names here, really, because there are so many wonderful Aussie poets I’d love to mention.
POSTSCRIPT: After I drafted this post, the UK-based International Business Time published, for this year’s World Poetry Day, a list of “Famous non-English poets you should read”. Not Australian, but of interest to us all. Check it out.