National Poetry Day and here I am on the second floor of Cardiff’s brilliant new central library celebrating the publication of Jennie Savage’s Arcades. This Safle published compendium is a wonderful mixture of photograph, history, anecdote, map, discourse, reportage, plan and chatter (included on a CD stuck inside the back cover) and an absolute bargain at £9.95. But it isn’t poetry.
There’s certainly something odd about all of this. National Poetry Day is the time each year when verse rises to the top of people’s consciousnesses. The BBC run polls, poetry gets televised, verse is recited by news readers. All over the country poets move to the forefront. Somebody has already told me that, earlier, a shaven-headed man was seen shouting poems down the Library’s vast stair-well – Ifor Thomas as it turns out, employed for the day to encourage the versification of visiting punters. Out of the window, embedded in the paving in the front of John Lewis’s new store, are the letters of my new piece of Cardiff concrete poetry. From this vantage point you can read them in all their acrostic glory – how the town had its name spelled down the centuries – Kairdiv, Cardaiff, Caerdyff – spread out in a permutational square. It’s poetry but not there for verse’s national Day.
In the paper is a list of the top UK poets as voted on by those members of the public who could be bothered to fill in the poll. T S Eliot, an American, heads the list. Wales fares badly. Maybe I should create my own list. I put thirty names in a hat and then pull out ten: Gillian Clarke, Gwyneth Lewis, Robert Minhinnick, Ifor ap Glyn, Alan Llwyd, Twm Morys, Tony Curtis, Gwyn Thomas, Menna Elfyn, Dannie Abse.
What about a top ten outsiders? Nick Fisk, Charles Jones, Childe Roland, Chris Torrance, Lloyd Robson, Martin Daws, Ian Davidson, Idris Davies, Rhys Iorwerth, Aneirin Karadog. Or our funniest: Ifor Thomas, Mike Jenkins, Mab Jones, Peter Read, Goff Morgan, Emily Hinshelwood, Tiffany Atkinson, Jan Price, Ann Drysdale, Catrin Dafydd.
Maybe most republished would be more interesting? Dylan T. The best on harmonica? Nigel Jenkins. The most popular? Owen Sheers. If I had space I’m sure I could come up with a post-National Poetry Day list that included almost everyone. Maybe you’ve got your own favourites? Do let me know.
Meanwhile, with the great day safely behind us, we can now get back to the regular life. One where poetry rarely intrudes. Auden reckoned that poetry was the place where nothing happens. I disagree. I’m now expecting a few phone calls from those Welsh poets inadvertently excluded from my lists above. No insult intended. If you are not there then let me know and I’ll try to slot you in.
An earlier version of the posting appeared as The Insider in the Western Mail of Saturday 21st November, 2009