London: It’s raining in London and it’s midsummer here. Londoners are used to summer showers but they’d never seen anything like this as a helicopter hovered over the London Eye, scattering 100,000 poems on to the delighted crowds below.
The “Rain of Poems” is the idea of a Chilean arts collective called Casagrande and follows similar stunts in cities that have suffered from aerial bombardment during wartime from Berlin to Santiago, Gernica to Dubrovnik.
The forthcoming Olympic Games made London the perfect target,Casagrande’s Cristoball Brianchi says.
“This time we have included one poet from each of the countries participating in the Olympic Games so when you see all of these poems in the sky what you are seeing is the story, the literature of all these different places.”
But logistics threaten to replace lyricism among Cristobal’s list of priorities.
“I have become a weather specialist. I have to calculate wind direction, the wind speed as well as the rules of civil aviation.”
In the event, Cristobal’s command of wind speed proves inadequate and the first batch of poems is carried away from the crowd, sending people scurrying through side streets in pursuit of poetry. Eventually, the chopper moves to a more suitable position from which the delightful deluge can hit its mark. Soon Jubilee Gardens are full of laughter as poem-baggers run to and fro, leaping in the air and diving on the grass to snare their quarry. If £50 notes had replaced the bookmark-sized poems there could barely have been a happier response.
The “Rain of Poems” marks the beginning of what is being described as the biggest ever gathering of international poets. The event is called “Poetry Parnassus” — named after Mount Parnassus, known in Greek mythology as the spiritual home of poetry, the stamping ground of the lyricist Orpheus and the hang-out for the Muses.
The event has attracted poets of all ages, continents and literary stature — from Nobel Laureates Seamus Heaney (Ireland) and Wole Soyinka (Nigeria) to Poet Laureates Kay Ryan (U.S.) to Bill Manhire (New Zealand).
Many arrived in London with incredible stories to tell. Jang Jin Seong was court poet to North Korea’s Kim Jong-il. When his disillusionment with the regime became too much to bear he fled across the Tumen River carrying seventy of his poems. He now lives in South Korea separated from his family but free to express his thoughts about his native country.
Poetry Parnassus is part of the South Bank Centre’s “Festival of the World,” in turn part of the Cultural Olympiad, designed to spread the Olympic fervor beyond sport to the arts. Londoners at the “Rain of Poems” embraced this idea.
“It’s very important because not everyone has tickets for the Olympics so events like this mean everyone can take part.”