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New Initiative Launched for National Poetry Day

28th September 2017

To mark National Poetry Day today,  28 September, Southbank Centre’s National Poetry Library has launched a major new project to collect and preserve poems in endangered languages, and has commissioned four poets to write new poems in languages under threat or lost to them personally.


According to UNESCO, of the 7,000 languages spoken in the world, over half of these are endangered with languages dying at the rate of one every two weeks. Their figures estimate that by the end of the century, half the world’s current languages will be lost, which will also mean the loss of poetic traditions. Southbank Centre’s National Poetry Library believes it is vital to capture this poetic activity for future generations and is launching the Endangered Poetry Project on National Poetry Day 2017.


Via an international call-out, members of the public will be invited to submit a well-known poem in a language that is endangered or under threat, according to the UNESCO map of endangered languages. Southbank Centre’s National Poetry Library will collect these poems in both written and audio formats for their archives with the aim of preserving at least one poem in each language it receives. The library will work with Dr Mandana Seyfeddinipur, Head of the Endangered Languages Archive at SOAS, and translator-in-residence Stephen Watts to preserve the poems in both their original language and in English.


To launch the project, Southbank Centre is also commissioning four internationally-renowned poets to write new poems in languages under threat or which have been lost to them personally through displacement or circumstance. Joy Harjo, a member of the Mvskoke (Creek) Nation will write a poem in the endangered language Mvskoke; Northern Irish poet Gearóid Mac Lochlainn will write in Irish Gaelic, a language classed as 'minority' in Northern Ireland; Iraqi poet Nineb Lamassu will write in Assyrian, a language not officially recognised in Iraq; and Ugandan poet Nick Makoha will write in his mother tongue, Luganda, a language he lost when he was forced to flee Idi Amin’s dictatorship as a boy.


These poems will receive their world premiere performance by the poets at a free event on Saturday 14 October, Seven Thousand Words for Human, as part of Southbank Centre’s Poetry International festival which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary. Founded by former Poet Laureate Ted Hughes in 1967, Poetry International 2017 will also showcase a number of the poems submitted by the general public in a special exhibition of endangered poetry in Southbank Centre’s National Poetry Library.


Chris McCabe, Southbank Centre’s National Poetry Librarian said, 'We're launching the Endangered Poetry Project with the aim of holding on to as much poetry as we can for future generations to hear, read, translate, enjoy and pass on to other people. Who can imagine a world without classics such as Beowulf and The Odyssey that were written in languages that people no longer speak? We're calling out to people everywhere to send us the poems they know so future readers can enjoy them just as much as they do.'


* To celebrate National Poetry Day and the publication of his new book The Poetry Pharmacy, exclusively for Foyles we talked to William Sieghart about prescribing poetry to those in need of it, the sense of complicity the right poem can give and why the 'P word' needs to be reclassified.


© W&G Foyle Ltd
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