Visit England - in poetry

To mark National Poetry Day (28 September), VisitEngland has commissioned two contemporary poets, Remi Graves and Andrew McMillan, to create new ‘England poems’, celebrating London and Manchester respectively, with accompanying videos set in each city. With a rise in spoken word scenes across the country, VisitEngland partnered with National Poetry Day for the project, as part of its ‘Year of Literary Heroes’.

Remi Graves’ poem, On Regent’s Canal, is a personal journey along London’s Regent’s Canal and celebrates the diversity of its residents and visitors, from dog-walkers to kayakers, bike walkers to hen party revellers, ‘a confluence of bodies making home’. Graves draws on William Blake’s 18th century poem London for inspiration, however where Blake saw ‘Marks of weakness, marks of woe’, Graves notes ‘marks of heart and soul and peace’ on the faces of those she comes across. The video depicts attractions encountered along Graves’ walk including floating bookshop Word on the Water, the new tranquil green space Gasholder Park and family favourite ZSL London Zoo.

Remi Graves is a London-based poet and drummer; as a member of Roundhouse's Poetry Collective she has performed at festivals including Lovebox and Bestival and she recently held the role of Digital Poet in Residence with The Poetry School. She said: “I used to cycle along the canal daily to get to work and always found it a restful, peaceful safe haven amidst the buzz of London. It's special because it offers you an honest and multiplicitous cross section. Walking from Westbourne Park (where I live) to King's Cross and beyond, you cross a myriad of people, the zoo, people on dates, barge dwellers in Little Venice, children on the front of their parents’ bikes. It's special because it feels like a summing up of what London is.”

Manchester-based poet Andrew McMillan’s poem, Manchester, is a modern-day interpretation of William Wordsworth’sDaffodils. Rather than a rural landscape, the setting is buzzing, urban Manchester, where the poet ‘danced last night up Deangate locks | canal a pulse beneath my feet’. The poem describes a night out in the city among ‘brightly coloured people’, which turns into a beautiful sunrise in the Northern Quarter; it captures the joyful atmosphere of Manchester and its residents and incorporates key elements of the ideal mini-break to the city, including the new contemporary arts hub HOME, the Palace Theatre, nightlife around Deansgate Locks and the vintage shops and tearooms of the bohemian Northern Quarter.

Andrew McMillan’s debut collection physical was the first ever poetry collection to win The Guardian First Book Award and has gone on to garner several other awards and prizes. He currently works at Manchester Metropolitan University and said of the poem: “It's great to celebrate this city that I love. A commission like this makes you reconsider somewhere that you know really well; I live in Manchester and have walked by the places in my poem every day. That's the job of poetry – to make us look again at the everyday.

“Romantic poetry, like Wordsworth, has given us a notion that great poetry is about the landscape, about pastoral places, so it's been a great challenge to rewrite Daffodils in an urban setting. Hopefully people will try it for themselves, writing a poem in celebration of where they're from, because everywhere is worthy of writing about.”

Poetry is designed to be spoken aloud, which is why VisitEngland has created accompanying videos in which each poet recites their work against the backdrop it is set in. Spoken word has significantly gained in popularity in recent years, with the likes of Kate Tempest drawing crowds of thousands at Glastonbury Festival. National Poetry Day sees the launch of the BBC’s major new four-day spoken word festival, Contains Strong Language, in Hull, the UK City of Culture 2017; there’s no better time to discover destinations across England with thriving spoken word and poetry scenes. Plot a cultural getaway spanning open mic nights, poetry readings and trips to arty cafés, bars, bookshops and more.

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