21 March 2019
Bridget Minamore at the #Merky Books launch at the Barbican, November 2018

Poet Bridget Minamore at the #Merky Books launch. Photo credit: Blaow

Thursday 21 March marks World Poetry Day. Celebrating one of our most treasured forms of expression, poetry has been practiced in every culture globally throughout history. It can be simple or complex, can challenge traditional ideas of form and structure, and has been used as one of our most powerful mouthpieces for activism and change, or for coveying love and loss. 

Created by UNESCO, World Poetry Day encourages us to return to the tradition of poetry readings and to place poetry within other arts such as music or dance. Poetry shouldn't be considered an outdated form of art, but 'one which enables society as a whole to regain and assert its identity.'

Get your prescription from The Poetry Pharmacy

Curated by William Sieghart, The Poetry Pharmacy is here to soothe any ailment. Whether you're suffering from loneliness, anxiety, a broken heart or a lack of courage, turn the page and read your poem prescription to ease the pain. Take the quiz for any immediate emotional need.

  • The Poetry Pharmacy

  • 'Truly a marvellous collection ... There is balm for the soul, fire for the belly, a cooling compress for the fevered brow, solace for the wounded, an arm around the lonely shoulder - the whole collection is a matchless compound of hug, tonic and kiss' Stephen Fry

    As heard on BBC Radio 4, the essential prescriptions from William Sieghart's poetic dispensary

    Sometimes only a poem will do. These poetic prescriptions and wise words of advice offer comfort, delight and inspiration for all; a space for reflection, and a chance to realize - I'm not the only one who feels like this.

    In the years since he first had the idea of prescribing short, powerful poems for all manner of spiritual ailments, William Sieghart has taken his Poetry Pharmacy around the length and breadth of Britain, into the pages of the Guardian, onto BBC Radio 4 and onto the television, honing his prescriptions all the time. This pocket-sized book presents the most essential poems in his dispensary: those which, again and again, have really shown themselves to work. Whether you are suffering from loneliness, lack of courage, heartbreak, hopelessness, or even from an excess of ego, there is something here to ease your pain.

    'The book is delightful; it rightly resituates poetryin relation to its biggest and most serious task: helping us to live and diewell' Alain de Botton

  • Buy the book

Watch a poetry reading

The power in poetry often lives in a live recital, particularly from its author. Discover new meaning behind metaphors with an extra beat, the tone of voice or flicker of an eye. Watch two of our favourite readings from Jay Bernard and Hera Lindsay Bird below. 

Share poetry with people of all ages

Poetry is for people of all ages, and it's not always serious! Poems can be laugh-out-loud hilarious, full of puns and wordplay. Get some recommedations on titles to read with younger poetry fans and watch renowned author Michael Rosen show you how to perform ridiculous rhymes to perfection. 

Add some award-winning poetry on your to-read list

With its flexibility, poetry can constantly be revived and refreshed. Take a look through the latest award-winning poetry to discover the newest talent to win the Costa Poetry Award, The Forward Prize and the Dylan Thomas Prize among others. 

Start writing your own poetry

Feeling inspired to start writing your own poetry but unsure where to start? Robin Robertson, Poetry Editor at Jonathan Cape and author of the narrative poem The Long Take (shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2018) advises to widen your reading list:

'Poetry has always seemed to me to be the most rewarding of all the literary forms because of its linguistic compression and layered density, its embedded music – because you can go back to a great poem for renewed sustenance and reward as often as you can return to a great painting or symphony. Art comes out of emotion and then regenerates emotion, but it is never simply ‘self-expression’; it is always a craft: a skill to be learnt and mastered. It is difficult, and difficulty is much more interesting to me than accessibility.

Having a sudden emotion doesn’t create good poetry, any more than needing a place to live qualifies you as a competent house-builder. My advice is to read widely and deeply; pay attention, by looking and listening; take a notebook everywhere. Luckily, we don’t all have to write poetry – and most of us are happy enough reading it. The same rules apply though, and the same choices. Do you want greeting-card rhymes or something more profound and complicated and beautiful?'    

Winner of the Forward Prize 2018 for best collection with Don't Call Us Dead, Danez Smith says the focus for writing should come from the relationship we have with ourselves:

'Our best writing comes from when we are honest with ourselves and when we're willing to push ourselves and take risks.'

  • Don't Call Us Dead

  • *WINNER OF THE FORWARD PRIZE FOR BEST COLLECTION 2018*
    *A Finalist for the National Book Award for Poetry 2017*

    *A Financial Times and Telegraph Book of the Year 2018*

    ‘[Smith’s] poems are enriched to the point of volatility, but they pay out, often, in sudden joy’ The New Yorker

    Award-winning poet Danez Smith is a ground-breaking force, celebrated for deft lyrics, urgent subjects, and performative power. Don’t Call Us Dead opens with a heartrending sequence that imagines an afterlife for black men shot by police, a place where suspicion, violence, and grief are forgotten and replaced with the safety, love and longevity they deserved here on earth. Smith turns then to desire, mortality – the dangers experienced in skin and body and blood – and an HIV-positive diagnosis.

    ‘Some of us are killed / in pieces,’ Smith writes, ‘some of us all at once.’ Don’t Call Us Dead is an astonishing and ambitious collection, one that confronts, praises, and rebukes an America where every day is too often a funeral and not often enough a miracle.

  • Buy the book

Burhana Islam, a WriteNow mentee writing her novel in verse encourages new writers to rediscover their love of language:

'Try and fall in love with language again. Play with pace and structure: full rhymes with no punctuation, one after another, can pick up speed quite quickly to build tension, or show how trapped somebody is feeling – it’s easy to get stuck inside a rhyme, right? Blank space, indentations and one line words can slow things right down. 

Always sound your work out: rehearse and read aloud. It’s all about the rhythm and the beat and that which rolls off the tongue. It shouldn’t be stilted or jarring unless it’s intentional to reflect the narrative at that moment in time. Remind yourself that poems need not to rhyme, have a metre or be in set verse – there are no rules for poetry so don't box yourself into them.'

One of the beautiful things about poetry is that it can be an individual experience - reading and writing, or with a group - listening and creating. Continue your World Poetry Day by listening to the VINTAGE Podcast episode with poets Ocean Vuong and Kayo Chingonyi.

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