Today is World Poetry Day! Held every year on 21 March, World Poetry Day celebrates one of humanity’s most treasured forms of cultural and linguistic expression and identity. Practiced throughout history – in every culture and on every continent – poetry speaks to our common humanity and our shared values, transforming the simplest of poems into a powerful catalyst for dialogue and peace.
UNESCO first adopted 21 March as World Poetry Day during its 30th General Conference in Paris in 1999, with the aim of supporting linguistic diversity through poetic expression and increasing the opportunity for endangered languages to be heard.
World Poetry Day is the occasion to honour poets, revive oral traditions of poetry recitals, promote the reading, writing and teaching of poetry, foster the convergence between poetry and other arts such as theatre, dance, music and painting, and raise the visibility of poetry in the media. As poetry continues to bring people together across continents, all are invited to join in.
Poetry Isn’t Just for the Page
Not everyone is passionate about reading and when many people hear the word poetry they shudder and think of being forced to read Shakespeare’s sonnets at school.
But poetry is far more than that and one of the best things about this art form is that it’s not confined to the written word. Performance poetry is now hugely popular all over the world, with artists like Kate Tempest recording albums and going on tour and Amanda Gorman’s performance at President Joe Biden’s inauguration going viral.
I was first introduced to performance poetry through hip-hop and discovering Def Poetry Jam, a spoken word poetry television series hosted by Mos Def which aired between 2002 and 2007. The series featured performances by established and up-and-coming spoken word poets and also included special appearances by well-known actors and musicians like Dave Chapelle and Alicia Keys.
This Type Love by Shihan is my own personal favourite Def Poetry Jam performance, but you can find many more clips of the show on YouTube.
So, if you think poetry is just out-of-date prose by a bunch of dead white guys, think again. Poetry is out there in so many forms, what better day than World Poetry Day to discover some for yourself.
If you’d like to join in a poetry open mic, join Poetry Live’s facebook group – home to New Zealand’s longest running performance open mic event.