The Columnist
National Poetry Day
Motorway Ballad
  La Monolog Victorienne
  Marmaduke, the White Knight
  Elegie Composee dans un Rural Churchyard
  Clive James
  A Salute to Rabbie Burns
  Oedipus & his mum
  The Ballad of the Middle Laner
  Railway Ballad
  Roman Road
  Ballad of Belmarsh Gaol
  The Bishop of Bath & Wells






What is National Poetry Day?
Well, it's a fairly crafty way
Of getting poetry to sell
So those who write it can live well.

Is there a National Poetry Night?
Oh, yes, when poets all get tight
Drinking away the profits they
Have made on National Poetry Day.

Don't poets scrimp and save as well?
Of this they are incapable.
A poet has no earthly intention
Of saving for an old age pension.
He'd rather go out to the bar
And spend it on another jar.

But what is National Poetry Day FOR?
Who thought of it? And was he sure
That anyone would willingly
Rally round for poetry?
If it's National Poetry Day
Why don't people block our way
Shaking tins and begging alms,
Saying: ‘Give freely for poetry's charm!’
Why not have a PROPER day,
With flags and stickers given away
To put upon our outer clothes
Saying:‘Poetry - not Prose!’?

Well, poets do not work like that.
They're always thin and never fat.
They never make a savings plan,
Except perhaps John Betjeman,
And if they get a Nobel Prize
Just see the horror in their eyes.
Poets never plan ahead.
Sometimes they don't get out of bed.

But why a day for Poetry?
Why not for Biography?
Why not a National day for novels,
When novelists creep from out their hovels
And crave a general benediction
On the art of writing fiction?

Because, my child, a novelist knows
That maturity comes with writing prose
But poets are wet behind the ears
And young at heart, if not in years.
If a poet reached maturity
He wouldn't be writing poetry . . .
And so he likes the jollity
Of having a day for poetry.
It's party time for poets, you see,
Balloons on the gate and jelly for tea!

But what is Poetry anyway?
Well, poetry is a special way
Of saying very special thoughts,
Of love and death, and other sorts,
Which writers often like to use
When prose is not quite right to choose.
They like to wrap their thoughts in verse
To make them snug and tight and terse.
And if they write their poetry well
Their little booklets start to sell,
And then it's poetry recitals
Where they can sell their latest titles
Because doing poetry on the stage
Pays more than the printed page.
They then turn into household names
Like Cope, McGough and P.D.James . . .

Does P.D.James write poetry?
No, but at least she rhymes, you see.

Does poetry always have to rhyme?
Not always, but there comes a time
When they are tired of liberty
And they would really like to see
If they can still do rhyming stuff . . .

OK, OK. That's quite enough.
So now it's National Poetry Day,
How can I help in my own way?
Shall I go out and write some verse?

Dear God! No, that would make things worse.
There's far too much of the stuff around,
Even stuck up in the Underground.
For Poetry Day I want you to say:
‘I won't write any poetry today . . .’

The Independent 5th October 2000


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