The world’s largest poetry event is over. The Poetry Parnassus, organized as part of London’s 2012 Cultural Olympiad celebrating the Olympics, took place from June 26 – July 1, 2012. (I first wrote about it in my April 20, 2012 posting when they were asking for more poet nominations as the organizers wanted to have a poet from each nation represented at the Olympics as part of the Poetry Parnassus.)
By all accounts this was as extraordinary gathering. Alice Gribbin in her July 3, 2012 article for the New Statesman provides some context for along with some details about the actual event,
Poetry Parnassus, the “back of an envelope” idea of Simon Armitage, artist-in-residence of the Southbank Centre, saw 204 poets from as many countries come together to represent their nation’s poetic tradition at the many-venued culture complex on the Thames. Readings and workshops, parties and debates filled six days and nights.
Did you know Somalia is possibly the world’s most poetry-loving nation? Such takeaways about the global poetry scene were easy to come by over the week, but far more interesting was the demonstration of how many various ways people of countries around the world relate to poems. Take Somalia again: while poetic expression there is the base from which almost all other creative outlets develop – and most people can recite many poems – the tradition is entirely aural.
At dusk over Jubilee Gardens, behind the London Eye, a helicopter dropped 100,000 cards printed with poems by 300 contemporary poets. The “aeronautical display” by Chilean collective Casagrande had adults and children jumping for poetry, or merely gazing at the “Rain of Poems” that gently fell against the city skyline. Later, crossing Waterloo Bridge, I read the first I had caught …
I have a very short video clip featuring the “Rain of Poems”,
As for anyone who might find the notion of a poetry event as part of the Olympic Games somewhat odd, Tony Perrottet in a June 29, 2012 article for The New York Times Sunday Book Review discusses the London Poetry Parnassus and poetry’s history as part of the original Olympics,
… the relationship between poetry and the Olympics goes back to the very origins of the Games. In ancient Greece, literary events were an indispensable part of athletic festivals, where fully clothed writers could be as popular with the crowd as the buff athletes who strutted about in the nude, gleaming with olive oil. Spectators packing the sanctuary of Zeus sought perfection in both body and mind. Champion athletes commissioned great poets like Pindar to compose their victory odes, which were sung at lavish banquets by choruses of boys. (The refined cultural ambience could put contemporary opening ceremonies, with their parade of pop stars, to shame.) Philosophers and historians introduced cutting-edge work, while lesser-known poets set up stalls or orated from soapboxes.
Criticism could be meted out brutally: when the Sicilian dictator Dionysius presented subpar poems in 384 B.C., disgusted sports fans beat him up and trashed his tent. At other Greek athletic festivals, like those at Delphi, dedicated to Apollo, the god of poetry and music, verse recital was featured as a competitive event, along with contests for the lyre and choral dancing.
For much of the 20th century, poetry was an official, medal-winning competition in the Games. …
According to Perrottet’s article, 1948 was the last year that poetry was a medal event at the modern Olympics.
The July 1, 2012 article by Sylvia Hui for the Huffington Post offers another perspective on the recent event,
He says he was one of late North Korean leader Kim Jong Il’s favorite propaganda artists, singing the praises of the Dear Leader in dozens of poems. But these days Jang Jin-sung says he prefers to tell the truth about North Korea.
“North Korea has nuclear programs, but South Korea has the media,” said Jang, who is in London for a global poetry festival involving poets from countries competing in the July 27 to Aug. 12 London Olympics. “Truth is the strongest weapon.”
Jang’s poems now tell of public executions, hunger and desperate lives. He said that the piece he chose to submit to London’s Poetry Parnassus festival, “I Sell My Daughter for 100 Won,” is based on one of his worst memories in North Korea – recollections of a mother trying to sell her daughter in the market place.
For anyone who might like to read Jang’s poem or any of the others that were part of the Poetry Parnassus, the UK”s Guardian newspaper has an interactive map here.