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Poetry at Southbank Centre.

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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. Groups of younger students able to visit us on site can benefit from a comprehensive collection of children's poetry books and recordings published since the 1980s--we have over 2000 children every year who participate in reading, writing and listening activities led by library staff--and borrow books and CDs for use in the classroom. For older students, we have a variety of innovative activities created and inspired by poets, designed to broaden their experience of poetry. Those studying for exams can listen to recordings of, read criticism on, and see the whole body of work of those poets they are studying at GCSE and A Level.

Those unable to visit can still benefit from the library's collection. At the end of the phone, or by email, we can answer poetry queries such as finding poems on a given subject, identifying poems from half remembered lines, offering information about poets, and suggesting poetry competitions for young people. Schools can also borrow our brand new pack, developed with teachers alongside poet and scientist Mario Petrucci, where students find the point where science and language meet, exploring how the material world can inspire their writing.

Global Poetry System

The world we live in and its poetry is the focus of another of Southbank Centre's poetry projects. Global Poetry System, or GPS, is an online map of poetry. It was initiated by poet and Southbank Centre Artist in Residence Lemn Sissay, inspired by his conviction that poetry is all around us, and that we can be inspired and engaged with text by observing and listening to our everyday surroundings. Poetry is in graffiti, road signs, and public art. It is in the nursery rhymes your grandpa reads you and that song they were playing at the swimming pool. GPS aims to collect and chart all these moments and places of poetry.

Poems featured on the website include high profile public art such as a beautifully lit image of Gwyneth Lewis' poems on the Wales Millennium Centre in Cardiff. Short and perfect texts, they are visible in huge illuminated letters in this important building, bringing poetry to the consciousness of concert goers, comedy fans, and theatre audiences. On the other side of the world, someone has uploaded graffiti found on an ancient rusting locomotive in a train graveyard in the Bolivian salt flats. Back in the UK, the poet Doug Curran talks about and recites a poem about the basket makers of Dumfries and Galloway in a recording made by the Scots Language Centre.

The idea that poetry runs through the fabric of our environment and is part of our everyday life is a potent way to democratise poetry and make it seem relevant to all your students. GPS is also an excellent and easy way to record and make public poetry projects of your own. Students can upload poetry, either through images, text, or videoed performance. GPS is also a fantastic prompt for creative writing, including as it does, so many enigmatic fragments of found poetry. As one of the site's most faithful contributors, poet Ryan Van Winkle says, 'You could find the beginning of a poem anywhere, even in work you don't like, in graffiti and shop windows, and I think the GPS system is a kind of extension to that thought.'

Poetry as a World Record, poetry on your street corners, poetry as a way of looking at our society--at Southbank Centre we are putting poetry at the heart of our programme. For the celebrated American poet Jorie Graham, 'Poetry wants to be contagious.' We hope that teachers will be able to take full advantage of this ambitious series of poetry happenings and make that glorious contagion infect their students.
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Title Annotation:Primary and Secondary
Author:Valencia, Miriam
Publication:NATE Classroom
Date:Mar 22, 2011
Words:1208
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