Poet Simon Armitage plans Olympic gig for 2012

By Tim Masters
Entertainment correspondent, BBC News

Image caption,
Poet Simon Armitage's latest collection Seeing Stars is shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize

An ambitious project to assemble poets from all of the Olympic nations in 2012 has been launched in London.

Simon Armitage, the poet behind the idea, said: "My hunch is this will be the biggest poetry event ever - a truly global coming together of poets."

The unique congregation, called Poetry Parnassus, would take place at the Southbank Centre for a week during the 2012 Olympics.

It is hoped more than 200 poets - from all continents - will take part.

"It's insanely ambitious," said Armitage, the Southbank Centre's artist in residence. "There are political issues, geographical issues, linguistic issues all to be overcome."

He said that for Tuesday night's launch - part of the Poetry International 2010 festival - poets from almost every continent had been invited to perform.

"Last night was a flavour of the type of event that you get poets of different cultures and languages into the same room.

"It shouldn't work, but it absolutely does. The Colombian poet William Ospina read entirely in Spanish and his poems appeared above him on a screen translated into English. Somehow that polarity between the text above him and his voice makes for this very powerful linguistic cocktail."

Ospina told the BBC: "It is a great honour to be invited to such an event and contribute to poetry's comeback as one of the greatest cultural encounters that there is in the world."

Snow poems

A poet from Zimbabwe, Togara Muzanenhamo, who had been invited to read at the launch, was unable to enter the UK due to visa restrictions.

Armitage added: "We couldn't get a poet from Antarctica. My gut feeling is that there are poets absolutely everywhere, and there is probably someone in a hut out there who's been there for five years writing poems about snow. So could they make themselves known...?"

Every poet will donate one of their own books to the Poetry Library's collection at the Southbank Centre which reaches its 100th birthday in the Olympic year.

Jude Kelly, the Southbank Centre's artistic director, said: "Poetry has always been so associated with the Olympics - the Greeks used poetry to speak of human prowess, peace after war, humour after sorrow.

"It seems appropriate to make poetry this central idea of something that is about a world gathering."

Armitage's first collection Zoom! was published in 1989, and he won the Forward Prize in 1992.

Asked about the daunting logistics of gathering so many poets in 2012, he said: "I've always believed in aiming high and attempting the impossible - otherwise I wouldn't have gone into poetry."

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