Poetry Parnassus

On 26 June 2012, as the daylight was starting to fade, a helicopter dropped 100,000 poems on crowds that had gathered at Jubilee Gardens. The event marked the start of the Poetry Parnassus, the largest poetry festival in the UK which is being held as part of the Southbank Centre’s Festival of the World (itself part of the Cultural Olympiad as we understand it).

At the Battle Rock, poetry tends to be a fairly private matter. Occasionally we’ll contemplate Blake’s “mind-forg’d manacles” as we go about our London business, or we’ll jot down somewhere private our own thoughts about life in this city. So when we heard that a Chilean arts collective called Casagrande were planning on dropping 100,000 poems from a helicopter to crowds waiting in a London park below we were both intrigued and a little cynical (mainly due to reservations as to whether air dropping poems written by a poet from each of the 204 Olympic nations was an effective way of connecting people with these poets’ poetry).

Casagrande have a slogan, “no se vende ni se se compra” (“can’t be sold, can’t be bought”), so as a free event our intrigue easily outweighed our cynicism. And we’re glad it did. Rarely will you see such enthusiasm for poetry / grabbing bits of card dropped from a helicopter. Whilst large numbers of the poems were caught by the wind and taken away from the eager crowds, and elsewhere across the Waterloo area (we filled our pockets on the way home), this only added to the sense of expectation and desire for poems amongst those stood patiently waiting in the park. As the odd poem did start to flutter down into Jubilee Gardens, the crowds lurched and swayed and competed to make a poem their own.

Despite the large numbers of people, there was a sense of “healing and peace” as the organisers had anticipated, which expressed itself in a more obvious show of playful competition (ignoring one girl who shamelessly snatched a poem from somebody else who had judged the flight of the card a little more effectively).

Casagrande organised their first “poetry bombing” in Chile after dictator Augusto Pinochet was imprisoned, “as an outlet for the great joy we found in finally being able to express ourselves, particularly in public spaces”, and a visible sense of joy was also inspired amongst those gathered within Jubilee Gardens.

There are much more efficient ways of getting your hands on poetry of course (we’ll be heading to the local library with that in mind shortly!), but a surprisingly entertaining and uplifting event.

Photographs: © Mark Hucks

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