Does poetry need a special day?

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It's National Poetry Day (7 Oct) - and this week has seen a flurry of activity in the world of poetry.

At the start of the week, Roger McGough wrote two Tube strike poems. Since then, the winners of the Forward Poetry Prizes and the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award have been announced.

Publisher Faber has made four short films with writing tips from poets, including this year's National Poetry Day poet-in-residence Daljit Nagra.

We asked six poets about their thoughts on National Poetry Day, and about their latest work.

ADELLE STRIPE

Adelle Stripe

Start Quote

The literary world is full of people who love the sound of their own voices.”

End Quote Adelle Stripe

Adelle Stripe lives in Mytholmroyd, Yorkshire. In 2006, she was a founding member of The Brutalists, a group of young writers with a back-to-basics approach to poetry. Her most recent poetry collection was 2009's Cigarettes in Bed.

Why does poetry need to have a special day?

There aren't enough people who give poetry a try. Many are put off from being force-fed Milton at school, and never want to return. The only time most people read or hear poetry is at a funeral or a wedding. If having a special day for poetry helps introduce new audiences then it can only be a good thing.

What sort of a poet are you?

A wild card who occasionally hits the mark.

Name one essential item in a poet's toolkit.

A fountain pen, it manages to extract far superior stanzas than your average biro.

Tell us about the last poem you wrote.

It was during a poetry MA workshop at Manchester University this week. It doesn't have a name yet but is based around a dungaree clip, growing up next to an industrial estate and pigs' ears.

Do you know what the next poem will be?

I am writing a long poem, broken into cantos called The Beast I Am. It is set in Chapeltown (Leeds) around the time of The Yorkshire Ripper and the race riots. The poem is wedged between psychogeography, kitchen sink realism, myth, historical fact and dub reggae. I have no idea if it will work, but I suppose the blind uncertainty is part of the poetic process.

Quote a line from one of your poems that you like reading aloud.

"Where copycat suicides became the norm/ Fifteen minute fame from a noose in Tadcaster." (From Last Orders)

What will you be doing on National Poetry Day?

Watching TV. Procrastinating. Hiding from the weather. Writing. All the things I do every day. I'm not really into poetry readings, they can be incredibly boring. The literary world is full of people who love the sound of their own voices - it can be quite an ordeal, even for the most hardened poetry geeks.

DALJIT NAGRA

Daljit Nagra

Start Quote

I write so many more poems than I keep”

End Quote Daljit Nagra

Daljit Nagra was born and raised in West London, then Sheffield, and currently teaches in Willesden. His first collection - Look We Have Coming to Dover! - won the 2007 Forward Prize for best first collection. He is poet-in-residence for this year's National Poetry Day.

Why does poetry need to have a special day?

It's always going to be a marginal form, so it's good to foreground it for just a few hours as something worthy of national status.

What sort of a poet are you?

A serious poet with comic poems. I find humorous ways to approach complex ideas like the multi-ethnic society.

Name one essential item in a poet's toolkit.

The voicebox. And the voicebox within the poem.

Tell us about the last poem you wrote.

It was the commission for National Poetry Day - it's got an Indian title Gunga Jumna (sky, earth) .

People often talk about wanting to go back to their roots to their homeland, and the poem imagines someone going back - trying to capture that exoticised feeling they were after.

Do you know what the next poem will be?

No idea. I'm editing several, some might get discarded, some might be finished and kept. I write so many more poems than I keep.

Quote a line from one of your poems that you like reading aloud.

"Burdened, ennobled - poling sparks across pylon and pylon." (from Look We Have Coming To Dover!)

What will you be doing on National Poetry Day?

I'll be reading at the South Bank with other poets such as Simon Armitage, and I'll be on standby for the day. I might be called in to do the odd interview. I'll be hanging out by the River Thames just waiting to be summoned.

DREADLOCKALIEN

Dreadlockalien

Start Quote

The youngsters have decided that just a microphone and poet isn't good enough any more”

End Quote Dreadlockalien

Dreadlockalien is a performance poet based in the Midlands. He was Birmingham's Poet Laureate in 2006. He runs arts educational workshops for companies and schools, and was a judge for this year's Forward Poetry Prize.

Why does poetry need to have a special day?

I think any art form or social cause needs one day of focused profiling. We'd love a month!

What sort of a poet are you?

I'm strictly live literature - never been printed, never want to be printed.

Name one essential item in a poet's toolkit.

People skills are important, confidence, being able to own and deliver your material well.

Tell us about the last poem you wrote.

A poem called Too Late - a collaborative poly-vocal piece I'm writing for four people with audience interaction. It's a bit like a stand-up comedy routine. It's about all those tiny moments in life when it is too late. It's the embryonic start of a big show I'm writing. The youngsters have decided that just a microphone and poet isn't good enough any more.

Quote a line from one of your poems that you like reading aloud.

"You never see a stand-up comic reading from a joke book/ So why should a poet read from a notebook?" (From I Wanna Hear Poetry)

What will you be doing on National Poetry Day?

Earning double time! Last year I got on Breakfast TV at the very last minute.

FELIX DENNIS

Felix Dennis

Start Quote

Poetry is not for wimps”

End Quote Felix Dennis

The owner of Dennis Publishing (titles include The Week, Auto Express, Maxim and Viz), entrepreneur Felix Dennis is the 88th richest individual in the UK, according to the Sunday Times Rich List. Following a life-threatening illness, his first collection of poetry - A Glass Half Full - was published in November 2002. He is currently on a 21-date national poetry tour to promote his latest book Tales From The Woods.

 Why does poetry need to have a special day? 

For me it doesn't. But I think there is a good purpose. When Keats and Browning and Byron were writing there weren't all these distractions - no TV, magazines, movies - so poets now have a pretty hard time elbowing their way to place their wares in front of audiences. So innovations like Poetry Day - and the Poetry Archive - are necessary to bring poetry to the fore.

What sort of a poet are you? 

I'm a popular poet in the sense that my books tend to sell in the thousands, and sometimes in the tens of thousands, rather than in hundreds. Technically, I attempt to integrate structured poetical forms into modern day poetry. My subject matter is very closely tied to the 21st Century.

Name one essential item in a poet's toolkit. 

You can't have one. It's like one essential item to fix your car. But there's got to be passion - if there isn't passion within the writing, then what's the point of writing poetry or anything else?

Craft can only come with really hard graft over a long time. Poetry is not for wimps.

Tell us about the last poem you wrote. 

I'm doing a continuation of a poem written by Ezra Pound in the 1950s - about Jesus and the crucifixion - called the Ballad of the Goodly Fere. It's not a pastiche. It's been fascinating for me, especially as a struggling atheist.

Do you know what the next poem will be?

It's called Night Swimming. I took a long, lazy swim at night in a lake in Connecticut where I have a house. I was rolling up and looking at the stars and then realised that this boat was heading towards me and they couldn't see me!

Quote a line from one of your poems that you like reading aloud.

"Love came to visit me, shy as a fawn/But finding me busy, she fled with the dawn." (From Love Came To Visit Me)

What will you be doing on National Poetry Day?

I'll be resting after what I know will be a spectacular gig in Newcastle. Liverpool was a riot on Friday, but I know that Newcastle will try and outdo them.

JENNY LINDSAY

Jenny Lindsay

Start Quote

One of my poems includes the word "negligible". When I manage to say that line properly I really enjoy it”

End Quote Jenny Lindsay

One of Scotland's leading performance poets, Jenny Lindsay has performed at the Glastonbury Festival and Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Her debut collection The Things You Leave Behind will be published by Red Squirrel Press in Spring 2011.

Why does poetry need to have a special day?

I'm not sure it does, though it is helpful! It is nice that once a year we can expect to receive at least passing attention from the national media - though unfortunately poetry does tend to be written about rather strangely. It's either "dying a death" or all about "celebrating NEW and DIVERSE forms!" that are neither new nor particularly diverse.

What sort of a poet are you?

A new and diverse poet who is dying a death.

Name one essential item in a poet's toolkit.

Ooft. One? Ego, hip-flask, notebook, pen, toothpick. At least one of these will be needed at any given time.

Tell us about the last poem you wrote.

It's called Send Off and is about and ex-workmate of mine who was the most beautifully pessimistic idealist I have ever met.

Do you know what the next poem will be?

I am trying to write a piece called Drinking With The Relativists which will feature well-known postmodernists and ridiculous quasi-leftists, drinking alongside culturally relativistic feminists and an oddly drunk jihadist.

Or, maybe something about kittens…

Quote a line from one of your poems that you like reading aloud.

One of my poems includes the word "negligible". When I manage to say that line properly I really enjoy it, as I have right trouble saying that word; it trips me up. NE-GLI-gible…

What will you be doing on National Poetry Day?

Nothing particularly poetic unfortunately! I am currently training as a Modern Studies (think politics/social studies/citizenship) teacher, so I'll be up at 5am and commuting from Edinburgh to Glasgow…

In past years you'd have found me running my live poetry event 'Is This Poetry?' or doing something daft like reciting poems to unsuspecting commuters on buses. This year I will be showing my appreciation quietly; with a post-essay glass of wine, a good book and a wee toast to my far-busier comrades.

JO SHAPCOTT

Jo Shapcott

Start Quote

I'm the kind of poet who rebels against labels”

End Quote Jo Shapcott

Jo Shapcott was born in London in 1953. She is Professor of Creative Writing at Royal Holloway College and president of The Poetry Society. She is a previous winner of the Forward Poetry Prize (Best Collection) and was nominated again this year. She has also won the National Poetry Competition twice.

Why does poetry need to have a special day?

That's a bit like asking why we need birthdays. Of course poems are always there, every day, and readers will continue to find them and enjoy them whenever they like. But why not celebrate poetry once a year (at least) in a more public way.

What sort of a poet do are you?

I leave that to others. I'm the kind of poet who rebels against labels and schools (as applied to me, anyway). If I'm pigeonholed at any point as a particular kind of poet I tend to fly off and do something completely different.

Name one essential item in a poet's toolkit.

Specs.

Tell us about the last poem you wrote.

It explains to the reader how to get lost in a wood, properly lost.

Do you know what the next poem will be?

Not really, though I've collected some notes and thoughts about football.

Quote a line from one of your poems that you like reading aloud.

"Too many of the best cells in my body/are itching, feeling jagged, turning raw/in this spring chill…" (From Of Mutability.)

What will you be doing on National Poetry Day?

Reading at Poet in the City's poetry breakfast at 8am. Reading at the South Bank Centre 2-3pm - with some very tiny one-to-one readings as part of it.

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