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The Bards of Somalia

Rageh Omaar explores what Britain can learn from Somalia, a country where poetry is the main means of cultural communication.

What could Britain learn from Somalia - a country where poetry is nothing less than the main means of cultural communication?

Portrayed abroad as a land beset by gunmen, pirates and famine, it is also known by those who live there as a Nation of Poets. Somalia had no written language until 1972 and poetry has always been the country's core form of mass communication - whether the spoken word or, more recently, via cassettes and radios.

Verse has, in many areas, taken the place of history books, newspapers and television as the main means of spreading news and comment. Poets who have real skill - the true bards - have the power to shape current events and receive both social and political privileges.

Can we integrate any of these elements into British poetry? Instead of one Laureate, should we have hundreds of bards reflecting the diversity of our nation - people we can turn to for everything from the poetic equivalent of a Times leader to the latest gossip around the parish pump? Can poetry be integrated into our daily lives as successfully as in Somalia?

In discussion with presenter Rageh Omaar, poets from the Somali community in Britain and expert translators wonder if - through the medium of everything from the spoken word to text messaging - Somalia's bards might provide the germ of a new form of information sharing in Britain.

Producer: Neil Cargill
A Pier production for BBC Radio 4.

30 minutes

Last on

Sat 28 Aug 2010 23:30