World Poetry Day is an international observance celebrated every year on March 21. It was established by UNESCO, with the aim of encouraging the return of oral tradition by supporting linguistic diversity and giving endangered languages an opportunity to be heard. And what better way to do it than through one of the most beautiful forms of artistic expression: poetry? World Poetry Day also promotes the teaching, reading, writing, and publishing of poetry, and encourages a dialogue between poetry and other arts, with the objective of raising poetry back to its former status of one of the most appreciated and important forms of art.
History of World Poetry Day
UNESCO established March 21 as World Poetry Day in 1999, during the 30th General Conference in Paris.
Unlike other UN and UNESCO observances, World Poetry Day does not celebrate different themes every year.
Why is World Poetry Day Celebrated?
Poetry is one of the oldest forms of art and literature known to men, dating all the way back to prehistoric times in Africa. It has always offered people a means to express themselves, their humanity, and their identity, and to write about matters of life, feelings, and thoughts. Because of this, reading poetry enables us to find meaning in our experiences and existence, and to connect with others on a human level. Poetry is crucial for emotional development, not only in children but in adults too, as it can help us look at things in a different way.
It is the unique language and form of poetry, its rhythm, meter, and symbolism, that allow writers to evoke meaning and communicate ideas and feelings better than other artistic mediums.
World Poetry Day celebrates all this! Poetry can surpass linguistic barriers, and therefore promotes linguistic diversity and multiculturalism, giving people an opportunity to be heard. By reviving the poetic oral tradition, and promoting poetry recitals, UNESCO aims to bring people closer together and connect them to their humanity. Poetry can talk about universal experiences, and many of us can still relate to poems that were written centuries ago. That's another one of poetry's beauties.
And of course, World Poetry Day celebrates all poets - past and present - and honors their work, with the goal of inspiring future generations to try their hand at poetry, to stop it from becoming a dying art.
Celebrated American Poets
Even though the United States is a relatively young country, it has a rich literary tradition that continues to have a big impact and influence in other arts. American poets in particular have a distinctly American voice, and many are internationally acclaimed. Here are some of the most famous American poets, do you know any of their work?
- Walt Whitman (1819-1892) His collection of poems, Leaves of Grass, is considered one of the most important pieces of American literature.
- Robert Frost (1874-1963) Frost won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry four times!
- Emily Dickinson (1830-1886) One of the most celebrated American poets, whose work unfortunately only gained recognition after her death.
- T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) The leader of the Modernist movement in poetry. Author of The Waste Land.
- Langston Hughes (1901-1967) Leader of the Harlem Renaissance and Civil Rights activist.
- Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) Pioneer of confessional poetry. The first person to win a posthumous Pulitzer Prize.
How to Celebrate World Poetry Day
On World Poetry Day government agencies, arts organizations, communities, schools and libraries usually organize some events to celebrate poetry and poets, such as readings, seminars, or lectures. See if there are any near you and go connect with other poetry lovers.
Want to learn more about American poetry? Research some American poets and their work or, better yet, if you are close to Washington DC, pay a visit to the American Poetry Museum.
Why not try your hand at writing a poem? You don't have to show it to anyone, but it can be a good way to let your feelings out.
Promote and support poetry by attending a poetry recital, or even hosting your own poetry slam, giving poets the opportunity to be heard!