Poetry Library news

Endangered Poetry Project | 28-Sep-17

To mark National Poetry Day on 28 September, we're launching a major new project to collect and preserve poems in endangered languages and commissions 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. We at the National Poetry Library believe it is vital to capture this poetic activity for future generations and that's why we're 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. We 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. We 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 Native American 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.
Chris McCabe, 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."

How can you help?

If you know a poem in an endangered language you can use the form linked below to submit this to the library:

Submit a poem

Want to submit a poem, but not sure whether it’s what we're after? Take a look at the questions and answers below for guidance.

How do I know if a poem is in an endangered language or not?
You can look at the UNESCO map of endangered languages here:

Can I send poems I have written?
Only if you are the author of a well known poem in your language. The primary focus of the project is to collect poems that are known within the culture in which they have been written. The library would like to get a sense of how poems become embedded in their cultures, shared and known by others.

Would you also like and English-language version of the poem?
Yes please! Although this isn't essential, it would be very welcome. Please state on the form if you made this translation yourself, if not please give the name of the translator.

What does Southbank Centre want the poems for?
Southbank Centre's National Poetry Library is launching its Endangered Poetry Project and welcomes your participation to ensure that as many languages as possible can be included. We might also want to use your poems in the design of the festival and also in an event or exhibition. The form asks for your permission for these additional things.

How do I submit my poems?
We would like poems in both written and audio formats. For some languages only oral versions will be known; for written languages the library would like both written and spoken versions wherever possible. Written versions can be attached to the form below as PDF or Word documents. Audio versions can be attached as MP3 files up to a maximum of 10 MB.

When do I need to send this in by?
The call-out for poems begins on National Poetry Day, Thursday 28 September 2017 and runs until the end of the year.

How long will the library keep hold of the poems that it's sent?
All poems will be retained until 1st April 2018 as the National Poetry Library works through the submissions. The library is aiming to collect at least one poem in each language it receives which will then become part of the library's holdings.

Will the library return the poems it doesn't want to keep?
The form below asks for versions of poems as documents or audio files, please keep hold of your originals. Southbank Centre is not able to return any of the files submitted.

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