“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Elizabeth Barrett Browning was probably proclaiming her admiration for a person, but her famous sonnet could just as easily be used to declare love for the medium itself: poetry. People around the world can do just that on World Poetry Day on March 21.
Started in 1999, the day was founded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to “give fresh recognition and impetus to national, regional and international poetry movements.” The group wanted to inspire the celebration of poetry all over the world, encouraging reading, writing, and teaching poetry works.
Poetry is a writing form that uses rhythms and imagery to elicit emotion and the imagination of the reader. Poetry can rhyme, using what are called meters of long and short syllables. Some poetry, written in what’s called “free verse,” doesn’t employ rhyme or meters. Poems are broken into stanzas, which are like paragraphs, and can be up to twelve lines long. It is believed that the first known poem was written around 4,000 years ago in Babylon, and is called The Epic of Gilgamesh. Today, countless types of poems are available to enjoy, including haikus, limericks, sonnets, and ballads.
How to Observe World Poetry Day
1. Write a poem
What better way to celebrate and promote poetry than by writing one of your own poems? If you don’t know where to start, try something small first. A haiku is a simple, three-line poem of five, then seven, then five syllables. Haikus can be funny or serious, and typically focus on nature. Once you’ve got the hang of that, try your hand at free verse. A poem to your secret love, perhaps?
2. Visit the American Poetry Museum
Check out the American Poetry Museum in Washington DC, a building dedicated to celebrating poetry all year long! It was founded in 2004, and is known as one of the first of its kind to collect and feature poetry. The museum offers special exhibits to learn about the art form and famous poets, and hosts events and workshops for patrons to learn even more.
3. Host a poetry slam
Gather up your most literary friends for a night of fun and rhymes. Turn your living room into a makeshift coffee shop and prepare to give snaps to the performers. Friends can read one of their own works or one of their favorites from another author. No need for prizes (unless you want to get competitive!)—just get together to share in the celebration of poetry.
Why World Poetry Day is Important
A. Poems are for everyone!
Sometimes people are hesitant to try out poetry, thinking it can be hard to understand. But have no fear—there’s a poem out there for you! Thinking about simplifying your life and taking some time to relax? Read the works of Henry David Thoreau. Need to read something about triumph and overcoming adversity? Try Maya Angelou. Need something a little silly, to remind you of your childhood? Check out Shel Silverstein: “If you’re a bird, be an early early bird. But if you’re a worm, sleep late.”
B. Poetry is all around us!
Are you a big fan of music? Then you’re a secret poetry fan! The cadence and rhythms of poetry are just like those of your favorite pop song or rap. With a few extra beats and melodies behind it, songs convey emotional messages and meanings, just like poetry. They even employ a lot of the same writing devices like metaphors and alliteration.
C. It starts a new generation of poetry lovers
On World Poetry Day, teachers and classrooms around the world take time to celebrate poems and poets and get their students excited about the writing style. Poetry competitions, poetry slams, and readings are held to let new and emerging poets try out their work and showcase their talents!