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The Written World Project: From the Scottish Poetry Library to BBC Radio, One Poem per Olympic Nation

By Harriet Staff

The Guardian reports that The Scottish Poetry Library has selected a poem from each of the 204 Olympic nations to be read on BBC radio. The Written World Project, which starts tomorrow, will see the poems broadcast daily from now through the 2012 London Olympic Games and until the Paralympics closing ceremony. More:

The rules for selection were broad. The poets could be living or dead but “their words had to be reflective, funny, lyrical or passionate, and the poem needed to depict some aspect of the national life”. It’s an ambitious undertaking, with the Scottish Poetry Library asking its international network for nominations and setting researchers trawling through its archives to come up with a shortlist, which it then judged.

It hasn’t been easy, and not all of the 204 poems have yet been chosen (countries with oral poetry traditions have been particularly difficult to source, unsurprisingly). From India, though, there’s Tishani Doshi’s “Homecoming”, an evocative tribute to her home town: “I forgot how Madras loves noise … How funeral processions clatter / down streets with drums and rose-petals, / dancing death into deafness”. From the Netherlands, there’s Hendrik Marsman’s “Memories of Holland”, slow and dreamy: “I see broad rivers / moving slowly through / endless lowlands”. From Denmark (I don’t like this one) there’s Morten Søndergaard’s “more and more Danes”.

The poems are being read by someone based in the UK with family ties to the relevant country, so we have a beauty therapist from Denmark and a Nigerian priest already lined up for radio stardom. I can’t find online Andrei Voznesensky’s “Selling Watermelons”, representing Russia and the market stalls of Moscow, nor Nigeria’s poem “Raindrum” by Niyi Osundare, nor Mauritius’s “As the Child Looks On” by Saradha Soobrayen, but there’s not long to wait until broadcast so I won’t panic. The launch programme went out today as part of the The Culture Café at 1.15pm, with the daily readings starting on Wednesday. From Thursday, the Scottish Poetry Library will be running the text of each poem after broadcast, with a Twitter stream – @splwrittenworld – tweeting lines from the chosen poems.

But the SPL has not announced the representing poem for the UK. As writ on their blog:

There is one poem chosen to represent a country that we are keeping under wraps for the time being – and that is Great Britain’s! Will it be an acknowledged great from Albion’s past? A Chaucer or a Blake? Or will it be a fresh voice, alive to the complexities of life in the twenty-first century? All will be revealed in the coming months.

Wonder what poem they’ve chosen for the States? We’d vote for expat Alice Notley’s “At Night the States.”


Posted in Poetry News on Thursday, March 15th, 2012 by Harriet Staff.