Here in the UK it is National Poetry Day. What does that mean? First, the Forward Arts Foundation, the charity that co-ordinates the day’s events, defines it on their website: “the annual mass celebration of poetry and all things poetical.” For this 21st National Poetry Day, the theme is light, which means lighting shops, opticians, and photographers will get involved. In Bristol, films will be screened of poetry read aloud by those whose jobs involve light (firefighter, astronomer). There’s a twitter campaign asking people to answer what it means to see the world as a poet, the best results of which will be lit up in Blackpool. (#nationalpoetryday #thinkofapoem) (See also @PoetryDayUK).
It means famous people reading poetry on the BBC, citizens sending in poetry to the BBC, people talking about poetry, and most interestingly, a promise to show the history of the country through poetry, on BBC Radio 4 in “We British: An Epic in Poetry.”
The newspapers are all over it, this hot topic. The Guardian has created a Guardian Witness video page of people reading poetry aloud. The Telegraph explains “What actually happens on National Poetry Day.” The Irish Post published three favourite poems. At the Independent you can read a feature on performance poetry and installation poetry.
Would this, could this, ever happen in Canada? Have I been out of the country too long and not noticed it happening? If we took over the CBC for a day to air poems on “We Canadians: a history in poetry,” which poems, which poets, would you choose? Who would you choose to read them aloud?
On National Poetry Day I must of course offer you a poem. Here is Archibald Lampman’s “The Modern Politician,” which I found in The Blasted Pine (Macmillan 1967). Lampman (1861-1899) did not live abroad, never leaving Ontario. Nor did he live long, dying at 37 from a heart weakened by rheumatic fever. But now and then the editor of CWA makes an exception, and is making one on National Poetry Day because in Canada there is an election coming up.
The Modern Politician
What manner of soul is his to whom high truth
Is but the plaything of a feverish hour,
A dangling ladder to the ghost of power!
Gone are the grandeurs of the world’s iron youth,
When kings were mighty, being made by swords.
Now comes the transit age, the age of brass,
When clowns into the vacant empires pass,
Blinding the multitude with specious words.
To them faith, kinship, truth and verity,
Man’s sacred rights and very holiest thing,
Are but the counters at a desperate play,
Flippant and reckless what the end may be,
So that they glitter, each his little day,
The little mimic of a vanished king.