National Poetry Day follows lockdown poetry passion with bumper plans for October

National Poetry Day follows lockdown poetry passion with bumper plans for October

National Poetry Day is holding a mass 24-hour "share-a-poem" festival alongside hundreds of mini events to celebrate poetry on Thursday 1st October. The organisation said it was keen to seize momentum after observing a rise in enthusiasm for poetry, particularly online, over the lockdown period. 

On the day, National Poetry Day is hoping people will share a poem with friends, family and neighbours, both online and in the places they live and work, and consider hosting "bubble-friendly" #ShareAPoem get-togethers around kitchen tables with cups of tea. Meanwhile, thousands of schools and libraries across the UK, including The British Library, are putting on poetry readings and performances on National Poetry Day's chosen theme of Vision.

The opportunity to share poems by sending free poetry postcards featuring the words of great poets will be available via the TouchNote app in conjunction with the charity behind National Poetry Day, Forward Arts Foundation. The free offer, which opens on 24th September, will continue throughout October.

In a new partnership, English Heritage has engaged poets to unlock "untold stories" of some of its sites, with writers on location from Tintagel Castle in Cornwall to York’s Cold War bunker, amplifying lesser heard voices in the interpretation of history. The project features new commissions, a competition, workshops and a public programme led by poet Jacob Sam-la Rose and will run through Black History Month in October. Caroline Moore, creative programme manager of English Heritage said poetry was the perfect "engaging" art form for English Heritage’s first creative programme project, calling it "a powerful medium that we can use to reflect and question, convey emotion and tell stories, and by doing so create new histories".

BBC Local Radio stations will be getting involved on the day, also, celebrating five years of #BBCLocalPoets by inspiring listeners to write their own poems and sharing films of poems commissioned by the BBC from leading poets Caleb Femi, Liz Berry and Luke Wright.

Scottish poet, freelance writer and teacher Kate Clanchy, who recently picked up an Orwell Prize for Political Writing for Some Kids I Taught and What They Taught Me (Picador), will be sharing her wisdom in four free online "Poetry Possibility" sessions hosted by the Forward Arts Foundation, featuring the poets Raymond Antrobus and Peter Kahn.

A Young Poets’ Showcase will be the highlight, according to National Poetry Day, in which six young poets from the UK and US will take centre stage on Instagram Live. The showcase will be the centrepiece of the first 24-hour "Poetry Lock-In", a day-and-night online celebration accessible via phone and screen, with open-mic opportunities, writing activities for all ages and special guests, hosted by BookTuber Leena Norms.

Booksellers will bring 40 new poetry titles to the fore, including those from the likes of Michael Rosen, Nikita Gill and Joseph Coelho, while the artist Chris Riddell will be leading an online poetry "draw-in" with "poet laureate of Twitter" Brian Bilston.

The winner of The Laurel Prize is being announced by Poet Laureate Simon Armitage, who has donated his £5,000 honorariam to fund the new award for the best collection of poetry on an environmental or nature theme. The award is run by The Poetry School and supported by partners including Landscapes for Life, The National Association for Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, and Yorkshire Sculpture Park, where the prize ceremony will be live streamed from 2.15 p.m. on 1st October.

According to National Poetry Day, the festival was organised in response to the "rocketing popularity" of poetry during the lockdown period. It noticed that the number of Instagram posts tagged #poetry grew from 40 million to 48 million between April and September while – bolstered by its project #haiflu, inviting people to write a haiku about lockdown – visits to the National Poetry Day website over the lockdown period increased by 160% compared to those recorded in the same timeframe in 2019, led by demand to listen and watch poetry performances online.

Poetry has meanwhile been raising its profile from celebrity online poetry readings over the period, on Instagram and SoundCloud, with "Game of Thrones" actor Emilia Clarke screening readings from The Poetry Pharmacy by NPD founder William Sieghart  to her 27 million Instagram followers. Other actors involved have included Andrew Scott reading Derek Mahon, Thandie Newton reading Derek Walcott, and Emma Thompson reading Naomi Shibab Nye for their sizeable followings. “From daily readings on the 'Today' programme to minimalist lines on Instagram, poetry has become one of the emerging cultural trends of the pandemic,” author Lauren Bravo wrote in May, around which time the BBC reported a trend for "poetry parties" helping people to feel less alone during the pandemic.

In sales terms, the category has held steady (down only 0.16% year-on-year from January to March and down 0.9% year-on-year since June). For 2019, poetry was 2% down in volume terms against 2018, with value up marginally by 0.4%, although this could have been skewed by the popularity of Rupi Kaur in 2017 and 2018.

Susannah Herbert, executive director of the Forward Arts Foundation, which has organised National Poetry Day each year since 1994, said: "This year will go down as the year of bubbles and screens, as lockdown has confined us to our homes and vastly increased the importance of our neighbourhoods, while highlighting the ways we reach out to others. Poems give release and a relief from loneliness; the amazing #haiflu project delivered by poet Liv Torc at the height of lockdown in June encouraged hundreds of libraries and schools to note and share their experiences in just three lines of poetry. That explosion of citizen creativity continues to gather force, turning poetry moments into poetry momentum."