Poetry at Southbank Centre

By Valencia, Miriam | NATE Classroom, Spring 2011 | Go to article overview
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Poetry at Southbank Centre


Valencia, Miriam, NATE Classroom


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Imagine London in 2012. The preparations are complete. Airports and train stations are bustling with excitement. The hotels are fully booked, and cafes, bars and restaurants are serving spicy Nigerian yams, Slovenian goulash, Thai egg rolls. Your students have booked their tickets and they are excited about seeing their heroes in the flesh. In other words, Poetry Parnassus is here.

Poetry Parnassus

Southbank Centre is mounting an ambitious poetry project for the Olympic year that aims to bring poets from every Olympic nation together for a week-long festival of poetry. Poetry Parnassus is led by Southbank Centre's Artistic Director Jude Kelly and Southbank Centre Artist in Residence Simon Armitage who says: 'My hunch is that this will be the biggest poetry event ever--a truly global coming together of poets.'

Poetry Parnassus will be a feast of readings, workshops, discussions, seminars and performances that will showcase what poetry means to the peoples of the world. Poets from open democracies will meet poets who live in countries where self-expression is a risk-laden endeavour. Poets who speak Flemish and poets who speak Turkish will find a common language in poetry. Young poets and poetry readers will learn from established writers, and those more experienced poets will be challenged by the enthusiasms of their younger colleagues. This Parnassus, however, will not be an exclusive club of Olympic poets only. Participatory projects in the run up to the festival will develop and foster relationships between poets from around the world and their communities in this country, with an aim to fully engage those communities both with Poetry Parnassus and the wider cultural resources available to them in London.

Culminating in a spectacular event, Poetry Parnassus aims to raise the profile of poetry in the Olympic year. The whole project will be documented in an anthology entitled The World Record with a poem contributed by each participating poet.

Poetry Parnassus, named after the mythological home of the Muses, is the highlight of a whole array of resources and activities that Southbank Centre can offer you and your students. This arts centre, at the heart of London's South Bank and Bankside Cultural quarter, is the home of the Saison Poetry Library at the Royal Festival Hall.

The Saison Poetry Library

This is a free public library devoted to modern and contemporary poetry. It's a lending library as well as offering unrivalled resources to researchers and poets. The Saison Poetry Library has a long history of cultivating the relationship between poetry and young people. Some of the greatest and best loved anthologies for children have been painstakingly and lovingly researched here. Back in the 1970s, visitors to the library will have rubbed shoulders with Ted Hughes, hard at work compiling the immensely successful anthology The Rattle Bag. In The Letters of Ted Hughes, published by Faber and Faber in 2007, the then Poet Laureate describes the experience like no other that is the Saison Poetry Library:

'Very strange experience, squeezing every morning into modern poetry, and sitting in there all day all curled up with book clamped over mouth inhaling deeply, then coming out in the five or six oclock dark' [sic].

Many other poets find their inspiration in the library. It's truly a place where poets and readers meet. As well as poets laureate, though, we see school students, families with young children, casual readers, critics, academics, teachers and artists 'squeezing every morning into modern poetry'.

One of our key roles is to provide support to schools, both nationally and in the local area.

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