On World Day, UNESCO chief hails universal art of poetry and those who give it life

Artist and poet Angel Uwamahoro presents poem at the launch in New York of “Kwibuka20” to mark the twentieth commemoration of the genocide in Rwanda. Credit: UN Photo/Evan Schneider

21 March 2014 – The head of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) is marking World Poetry Day by extolling the virtues of one of the highest forms of linguistic and cultural expression and calling for support to those who give it life.

“Through its words and its rhythm, poetry gives shape to our dreams of peace, justice and dignity, and gives us the strength and desire to mobilize to make them real,” Director-General Irina Bokova said in her message for the Day.

“All peoples throughout history have developed and practiced forms of poetry, so as to pass on orally their knowledge, history and myths – the Vedas and Ramayana in India, the Hebrew Bible, the Iliad and the Odyssey in Greece and many other philosophical and religious texts – to express feelings, to talk about daily life, to withstand trials or to entertain,” she stated.

“Today, contemporary forms of poetry, from graffiti to slam, enable young people to become engaged in the practice and renew it by opening the door to a new space for creation. The forms evolve, but the poetic impulse remains intact.”

UNESCO proclaimed 21 March as World Poetry Day in 1999, with the aim of supporting linguistic diversity through poetic expression and offering endangered languages the opportunity to be heard within their communities.

The Day is also meant to support poetry, return to the oral tradition of poetry recitals, promote its teaching, restore a dialogue with other arts such as theatre, dance, music and painting, support small publishers and create an attractive image of poetry in the media so that the art will no longer be considered an outdated form.

Ms. Bokova noted that Shakespeare described poetry as the music that each man carries inside himself and, centuries later, the jazz musician Herbie Hancock, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador and 2014 Charles Eliot Norton Professor of Poetry at Harvard University, has recalled the affinities between poetry, literature and music in his lecture on “the wisdom of Miles Davis”.

“As a deep expression of the human mind and as a universal art, poetry is a tool for dialogue and rapprochement,” she added. “The dissemination of poetry helps to promote dialogue among cultures and understanding between peoples because it gives access to the authentic expression of a language.”


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