National Poetry Day is an annual celebration of poetry, an initiative set up over two decades ago by Forwards Arts Foundation, and one which seeks to engage people in reading, writing and listening to poetry. Since 1999, each year has been given a theme to inspire and this year’s is ‘Messages’, with everyone encouraged to say it with a poem. There’s even a free National Poetry Day eBook available for download just here, featuring new and old content alike from National Poetry Ambassadors.
In view of today’s celebration, we asked our team to share one of their favourite poems and their thoughts are below…
My interest in Beat poetry began long before I encountered my (now) favourite book (Jack Kerouac’s ‘On The Road’); I first read Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s ‘Two Scavengers in a Truck…’ in my GCSE Poetry Anthology when I was in high school. This was huge for me; until that point, I hadn’t particularly cared for poetry, but the underlying social commentary Ferlinghetti conveyed in that piece showed me there was often much much more to be found in poems than just rhyme schemes.
At university, I wrote my dissertation on the Beat Generation, which Ferlinghetti was a part of- I’ve even visited his City Lights Bookstore in San Francisco, a formative haven for writers and poets who were part of the counter-cultural movement after WW2. My favourite Beat poet is Allen Ginsberg, a notorious literary figure whose poetic legacy is still felt decades after his death. I love so many of his poems, but one of my favourites is ‘Kaddish’, a lengthy sprawling ode written to honour the life of his mother Naomi. The opening lines capture his difficulty at comprehending her death:
Strange now to think of you, gone without corsets & eyes, while I walk on the sunny pavement of Greenwich Village.
downtown Manhattan, clear winter noon, and I’ve been up all night, talking, talking, reading the Kaddish aloud, listening to Ray Charles blues shout blind on the phonograph
My mother is celebrating her 95th birthday this week, so I’m just reminding her that:
Everybody was a baby once
Everybody was a baby once
Everybody went to beddy
With a little furry teddy
Everybody was a baby once.
One of my favourite poems is ‘The Road Not Taken’ by Robert Frost, which ends:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
Life is full of choices and no one knows how life would be if you’d chosen differently. Like Frost I like to go down unexplored avenues, whether in forests or in ideas!
My favourite poem has to be Maya Angelou’s ‘I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings’
The caged bird sings with a fearful trill of things unknown but longed for still and his tune is heard on the distant hill for the caged bird sings of freedom.
This page with her full poem also has a link to the equally poignant Paul Laurence Dunbar poem that inspired her poem.
The poems are both so moving and have incredibly powerful messages – they are a fantastic resource to introduce conversations about any kind of injustice, oppression and civil rights as well as modern slavery and people trafficking. Her poem and Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem, ‘Sympathy’, that inspired her work also send a powerful message to students that being inspired by art / poetry / literature can be a launch pad into your own creativity.
There are so many poems I love reading and that is thanks to my English teacher, Miss Porritt, who taught me for five years at secondary school. This made picking just one really difficult. I have favourite poems for different occasions and different moods.
‘Stop all the Clocks’ from ‘Twelve Songs’ by W. H. Auden is one I took the trouble to write out in italic for display at home as it is one I find really poignant. It speaks of such a deep, all-encompassing love that has ceased through death.
He was my North, my South, my East and West, My working week and my Sunday rest,
Our other poetry-related posts can be found here.