Poetry - National Poetry Day

Susan Omand has a special Poetry 101 for National Poetry Day today...

It’s National Poetry Day. A day for celebrating everything to do with poems, poets and poetry, so I felt it only right, being the weird one in the forgotten corner of /G-f that writes about poetry, that I do an article to commemorate the fact.

Since 1994, National Poetry Day has sought to engage millions of people with poetry through a range of live events and online activities for people throughout the country. Such a variety of poetry is written and read that, each year, the day is given a new theme in order to highlight particular poets and styles of poetry. This year the theme is “Light”.


You’ll remember back in the spring (and soon to be repeated), I did a series of articles on why poetry is not the big and scary thing everyone thinks it is and why you should give it a chance rather than dismissing it as too highbrow or difficult. A question asked by a friend on Twitter led me to thinking, now that you’ve had a chance to discover poetry for yourselves, do you have a favourite poem or poet to add to your favourite song/book/film/TV show? No? Just me then. Here’s my top five poets:

5. Robert Burns

“Aha,” you say, “typical Scottish shortbread tin, sentimental, bleeding hearts answer.” Well, no. Sure he did a lot of sentimental, romantic poetry and that’s the bit that so many people concentrate on, especially around Burns Night but I recommend you read some of his lesser known, more ...um... earthy works, such as The Merry Muses of Caledonia, to see the real Robert Burns, the hard living, hard drinking, womanising egotistical Burns. These are the poems about the real Scotland in the 18th century, not the tartan singing shortbread tin Scotland so often portrayed.

4. Ogden Nash

A master of the pun and an extraordinary wordsmith, the humour he could get into two lines of poetry is unrivalled. Like in The Cobra...

"This creature fills its mouth with venom
And walks upon its duodenum."

3. William Shakespeare

My long-standing love of Shakespeare’s work is well known, so it’s no surprise that he’s in my Top Five. He is also the poet that is killed by schools most easily, with the work dissected and examined in such minute detail that the beauty of the whole is forgotten. From the sonnets to the plays themselves, even though the language may be difficult, I recommend you try some.

2. Eminem

What? What do you mean he’s not a poet?? Song lyrics are just as much poetry as anything else and Marshall Mathers III is the master of the art of rap, which is performance poetry at the cutting edge. I don’t care what you think, I’m counting him. So there.

1. John Masefield

Even before I knew he was my favourite poet, he was my favourite poet. I’ve lost count of the number of times I have read or heard a poem and rushed to look it up, only to find it is one of his. Even though his style is extremely classical in rhyming and scanning (the de-dum de-dum rhythm) he is a relatively modern poet and was Poet Laureate from 1930 until his death in 1967. So why do I like his work? His use of words. I know that sounds silly but anyone that can write a poem about Quinqueremes deserves respect. His poems pull me in and paint pictures in my head, they remind me of places and faces and scenes in the same way that songs and fragrances do. The poems of John Masefield are just an integral part of my life.

So I bid you Happy National Poetry Day and urge you to "see the light" and get reading and listening to find your own favourites.

Image from Poetry Society.

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