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Behind the scenes at the Scottish Poetry Library

But where’s the poetry?

My flyer by sealedenvelope, under a Creative Commons licence

World Book Night is, of course, a good thing. On April 23rd this year and in 2011, an army of volunteers (somewhere in the region of 20,000) handed out copies of one of their favourite books, some to friends and family, some to strangers in the street, but all with the intention of sharing their enthusiasm and getting people reading. Great! But where’s the poetry?

Each year 25 titles are chosen to be fielded during that year’s World Book Night. For the event itself, each volunteer is given 24 copies of the book they want to spread the word about. These books are meant to be very readable ones; the purpose of WBN is to connect people who don’t read much with a book they’ll love. In 2012, titles included The Alchemist by Paulo Cohello, A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens, and The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro. But no poetry.

2011’s batch did include two collections, The World’s Wife by Carol Ann Duffy and Seamus Heaney’s New and Selected Poems. There does seem to have been a turning away from poetry by WBN’s organisers. In their list of things they look for in potential WBN titles, we find, ‘They have to have a story.’

On WBN’s website currently, they’re canvassing the public for the books to be given away in 2013. A list of the top hundred books chosen so far is available to view. The organisers aren’t committed to settling on the books the public vote for, but it may well inform their decision. So, where’s the poetry? While there are plenty of votes for The Hunger Games and Fifty Shades of Grey, which don’t really need the publicity, there isn’t any poetry as yet. With the 100th book making it into the countdown with only 6 votes, that’s something we could, together, change.

The only question is which collection or collections do we go for? Okay, we might pass on The Wasteland or John Ashberry’s Collected Poems, much as we love them, if the idea is something accessible that might hook new readers. So, how about Liz Lochhead’s selected poems A Choosing? If story is a prerequisite, what about Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf? Is there an anthology you think would make a good introduction? Join the debate on Twitter and Facebook, and then let’s get voting together.

Category: poems