Poetry Happenings with Michael Horovitz

We asked you to come up with ways to bring poetry to people using technologies old and new. We kicked off with a contribution from someone who has been a radical activitist of poetry since the 1950s.

Horovitz was one of a host of poets including Allen Ginsberg and Adrian Mitchell who took part in the International Poetry Incarnation, a massive poetry marathon held in 1965 at the Albert Hall, which over 7,000 people attended. It was one of the iconic happenings of the 60s and was celebrated in a film called ‘Wholly Communion’. Michael has since organised poetry happenings at venues large, small and enormous, involving streams of major poets plus special guests including Paul McCartney, Damon Albarn and even Kylie Minoque reading the lyrics to her hit I Should be So Lucky.

Wholly Communion

In the 60s it was possible to fill the Albert Hall by spreading the word to people by word of mouth. But now you can spread the word ever faster and more effectively via free social media. Horovitz has always sought to subvert the establishment of poetry publishing, now that establishment is rocked to the core by the implications of digital tools for their business models.

In this short clip from conversation with Michael, he starts recalling in precise detail the ‘Wholly Communion’ event of 1965, moves on to an attack on advertising in politics and ends with a blessing to the poets of the future, the Great Grandchildren of Albion, urging them to make “stratospheric, fifth dimension poetry” together via digital means, “with music, with computer, with space travel, without knives, and without political or Arts Council approval”.

We asked you to post your ideas to bring poetry to people, amny of them are below. You can read our favourites as selected by Chris Meade from if:book here.

Michael Horovitz - Photo Credit Hayley Madden Now in his seventies, living in a Notting Hill flat surrounded by mountains of archive papers from his poetry past, Michael Horovitz is still immensely active, organising poetry jazz Superjams and Poetry Olympics. He’s also co-editing Great Grandchildren of Albion, another follow up to the original Children of Albion anthology published by Penguin Books in 1969. His epic poetic rant A New Wasteland was published by New Departures in 2008. Photo credit: Hayley Madden for The Poetry Society.

Published May, 2012

30 thoughts on “Poetry Happenings with Michael Horovitz

  1. I love to do a lot of things with youth and so maybe have a company and going to youth groups and schools and educating them in poetry. You can also bring it to young children by showing them things and asking them how they feel.

  2. Well We should Introduce More and More Poetry competition For Poeple Under 18. Because When A Individuals Win something Like the More People (Including him) Are Motivated to Write More and More.. Social Networking Websites Shoul be Used a Arm to Shoot Poetry Arounf the World.

  3. I think there should be an app for android phones, like the app ‘draw something’ called ‘rhyme something’- where you have to rhyme words and create big poems with strangers around the world.

  4. Launch a new project by a super cool name….. organize local competitions in every country….A competition will take place among the national champions……the ultimate winner would be awarded the best honour for poetry in the world….. Project can be promoted using social media and Internet

  5. 1) Repackage the concept
    Don’t call it poetry anymore, people see/hear the word and they fall asleep. The concept needs to be repackaged, here are my suggestions but you can add your own:-
    – Rhythmic literature
    – Floating phrases
    – Abridged thoughts
    – Written conviction
    – Know-how-to-flow
    – Fu-man-chu Haiku

    What is my logic behind this?
    Mainly because of the older generation of poets, the younger generation feels put off. I’m not trying to be disrespectful but the poetry society has made it hard for youngsters to be heard. We need to repackage it so as to win back their trust. We need to be clever about it too because youngsters don’t want to listen.

    If I say to you we should have meetings about developing lasting relationships most people will be turned off. If I say we should have sex seminars how many people do you think would attend? Same thing applies with poetry.

    2) Guerrilla warfare
    In this age of social networking websites it’s hard to get your message out because of the copious mounds of information already out there. We need to get these kids where it hurts, during school or college. Whether there are assemblies or gatherings contact the education institute and with their permission make an appearance. Do a small talk on poetry (without calling it poetry) and hopefully out of the many gathered a few may get interested. Print out mini poems on to business cards and distribute them freely. Vistaprint have really cheap deals, leave some contact information on the other side and expand the chance of influence. Do social networking also but do this alongside.

    3) Power Play
    Make podcasts/YouTube videos but get celebrities to endorse them, better yet get the celebrities to be in them reciting poetry. Stars from Eastenders, Coronation street, Emmerdale whoever just don’t get poets though. Imagine Jessica Wright from “TOWIE” or Hannah Tointon and Gemma Rigby from Hollyoaks reciting poetry – SCORE!!

    4) Firebrand style
    You know those street preachers that tell you that you’re going to hell if you don’t believe in their religion? Well you should get a microphone and do the same for poetry (without calling it poetry) or do some busking like people do for money. Instead of taking money off any crowds that gathers hand out leaflets inviting them to events/websites.

  6. I’m sure everyone has seen graffiti artists spraying paint all over a wall or a space and calling it art. Some people agree with it, yet some don’t. People nowadays have a certain liking for abstract arts and something unique, so why not add some poetry into it. Instead of writing rude comments in graffiti and ruining a scene, turn it into poetry so everyone can take pleasure in it. People express their feelings through swearing and therefore some people don’t understand what they’re going through and just accuse them of disrupting a neighbourhood. But if they were to express themselves through poetry, everyone will be able to appreciate them. So in other words, poetry is art – using words as paint.

  7. Speaking as one of these ‘young poets’, I think that when poetry happenings occur, they will occur through the bravery of individuals. If you want to read your poetry, you have to stand up in the middle of your local town and scream it out at people around you. If you’re lucky, someone else will be jolted out of their consumerism induced stupor enough to do the same to you. And then you can talk about doing it together, and finding a place to do it. Poetry among young people is rebellion. It is doing something very few people do, it is non-conformism. We need to treat it like that too. Poetry in the modern world is anarchy. Don’t force it if you aren’t going to put everything into it. All that said, if there’s a single place left in Britain where a poet can read their work in its’ purest form, then I’ve yet to know of it.

  8. It is very sad, but the courses offered to your people on poetry at GCSE levels are so focused on basic literacy ability that any imagination or independence that might inspire them to take an interest in either writing or reading poetry is crushed. Another fantastic method adults have invented for putting children off creativity or love of literature is trying to make it understandable to a younger audience. This often comes across as extremely patronizing- especially when workshops try and ‘re-create’ old poetry through rap or board games. This only leads to mockery from students and watching them embarrass themselves in front of an uninterested audience makes one cringe. We need performers and actors to tell the brilliant stories prose and poetry carry- not a middle aged senior school teacher rabbiting on about rhyming couplets. Allow students to write their own, and show the magic of poetry trough drama, culture, art and song. Just because we are the children of a modern age doesn’t mean we are any more interested in rap, football or celebrities than any other generation.

  9. As a preteen myself, I know that a lot of young people spnd time on their computers and phones. Maybe introduce some more technological competitions, where you can send more easily and stuff. And also, maybe have virtual poetry, with pictures and doodles and videos with celebs-or just ordinary people- reading out poetry but making it more alive. Acting and singing, weaving a story, like poems do but in a way so that everyone understands. Some young people don’t like sensible and serious poems, so introduce fun ones, witty ones, research what people would like to hear about. Do everything you can to get everyone involved?

  10. Poetry flashmobs! Starting with one person in a busy area (with some kind of discrete radio mic on) saying the first words, the poem getting passed on to other flash mobbers and then in chorus with more people joining in ect ect. Have them filmed and put on youtube so they can go viral.

  11. As a rather open poet myself, how about poetry being used as supporting acts for musical artists? It hits home in the heart of youth culture, and portrays a modern light over poetry; not what many people would call dull sonnets, but lively and emotive works which convey so many ideas! In this sense people would see their musical role-models actively supporting poetry! There is even a genre dedicated to poetry! Rap (rhythm and poetry). Awareness is raised throughout the artists tour thus spreading what modern poetry stands for, and many up-and-coming poets get the chance to put their stuff out there! Win-win situation!

  12. We should get groups of young poets around 13+ to go around schools to explain young poetry and the emotions captured behind it. Maybe do some activities.

  13. I think we should encourage young people to write their feelings in more concise ways, in social network. How about creating a social network where you must write everything as poetry. Or maybe twitter poetry: one person posts a tweet and others must reply it in the form of poetry. Something like that was on facebook but got lost due to people ending up not posting…We all could start the trend again. Even chain mails: rather than just “send t 10 people or otherwise blah blah,” try something like “reply to me with the next line of this poem”.

  14. the way to ‘get’ young people is to have their idols, their influences, their hero, to be associated with it. Something like a TV star, a singer, reciting, or even just letting a poet or representative from YPN on the telly, or on the stage with them.

  15. People are so bored of everyday life, of stuff they have heard before. That’s probably why we thirst for the supernatural. Anyway if we want people to read and write poetry we need to surprise them, shock them and show them the real colourful side of poetry, not just the dull, dusty side they believe it is. We need street corners with people reciting, we need spontaneous group performances in the park, we need colourful flyers with the promise of a vibrant night, we need colour, we need energy, and we need surprise. For that is how we will hook people, give them the unexpected and what they think is cool.

  16. We could gather as many poets as possible, from the young to the old and then, all of us sit normally somewhere in public, and have a poetry fight (planned of course) that way, it will be out of the ordinary and people will film it and hopefully put it on youtube. Because youtube is such a big website, it will be shared around the world, reaching modern day people who use the internet (i hope this made sense, it did in my mind)

  17. I think people should be introduced to poetry at younger ages, and encouraged to write their own as well. Modern poets should be used to study in schools, rather than focusing so entirely on the older poets who many may not be able to relate to. Poetry could be expressed in different ways other than reading it in a book – for example, dramatic interpretations of poems in high streets or busy places where others can be entertained or even join in. i think more focus should be placed on what message is trying to be conveyed, and not necessarily on the technical quality of the poems so as not to put people off.

  18. Remember what poetry really is. I mean we experience a lot of poetry we just don’t realise it. Its in music lyrics, adverts, raps, sayings and slogans.
    There is a lot of things that are still poetical about the twenty first centruary and it just needs to be highlighted.
    Now if we’re talking about old school, quill and paper poetry then its a matter of broadening the type of poetry people are reading. Its like music not everyone will like Keats but that dosen’t mean they won’t like someone contemporary. Its like everything, a matter of taste and young people aren’t getting a broad enough taste of what poetry has to offer.
    How we are to use technology to do this. I think just infusing it, making the old and new meld, which is a matter of rediscovery if I am honest like the way that TEDxAldeburgh – Akala in “Hip-Hop & Shakespeare?” has done. Rediscovered the connection between two seemingly opposing art forms.
    My suggestion is to…
    Take music away from the lyrics in popular songs and just recite them but change it slightly. Make alterations so its poetical and not musical but enough that people can recognised the song. Put some quote from the old dead poets, make up something new and purely poetic reuse and recreate. Covers of songs are popular so why not do the same with poetry start off with a famous line and show where it can go. People accept things they recognise and engage with it better.
    Music soothes the twenty first centrey beast. ^-^

  19. I think that people should know and enjoy the likes of poetry more than they do now. To many young adults, poetry is something learnt in English. Its boring and useless. What they don’t realize is that it’s everywhere! In song lyrics, on bil-boards, every direction they look. It’s a gift and lesson worth teaching and to be taught. It brightens peoples future and has a lot of respect for common language.

  20. I think we need a youtube community – these can become extremely popular. You need to set up a YPN youtube channel and get people sending videos of themselves reading their work to you. You could check they’re OK and then post them. Anyone could watch and you could divide the readings under groups e.g. love poetry, sonnets, political, other, so people could find things they’re interested in listening to. And then connect the youtube channel to a tumblr, a microblogging website which is also very popular. Tumblr users tend to have ‘niche’ interests so the tumblr community would like be supportive of a channel broadcasting the work of young poets in English. So long as you made sure that what gets posted remains the property of the writer, I’d be completely up for this!

  21. when i started writting poems, i wasnt convinced they WERE poems. see, i didnt particularly enjoy reading poems, too old or too childish… and i reckoned i was an mc… i tried it and it wasnt my style so i took to researchinng. i think we should write a lot more poems that are meaningful to the reader. i mean teenagers arnt the best of readers… too school for them…

  22. I agree for poetry to expand beyond the 21st century (or even enter it!), it needs to be more accessible through the internet. Although I myself love poetry, many of my friends see it as uninteresting, pointless and especially uncool, and I believe this is because their only experience of it is through school, being taught it by a teacher who has to rush through the syllabus so they know it before their exams. Despite this, they listen to rap music, which makes use of all the poetic devices, and can recite many song lyrics which do also. I have tried to explain poetry is practically the same, minus the backing track, but they have non of it!
    However, recently, I discovered Don’t Flop. ‘Don’t Flop’ is a rap battle league, in which aspiring rap artists ‘battle’ each other. The battlers make use of all poetic devices in an allotted time period in order to impress judges and win the battle. These battles are filmed and are shown on the Don’t Flop YouTube channel, and reach hundreds-of-thousands of views, as quickly viewers discover their favourite battler and tune into the channel to see how they battled and if they won any recent events.
    This is only my personal opinion, but for poetry to continue beyond the 21st century, the art form needs an image overhaul. By taking the format of the Don’t Flop events, and tweaking it slightly I believe this is possible. If up and coming poets were to attend regular poetry reading events, put on by some sort of league, where a theme was set, and a winner was announced by the end of the event (and the event videoed and put on the league’s YouTube channel), I believe poetry would be seen as interesting again- by teenagers especially. In honesty though, for these competitions to work, and to gain a fan base on YouTube, they would have to be seen as modern, fun and entertaining by the largest percentage of YouTube users, who are late-teens to mid 20 year olds. Without reaching this audience of people with the events and league, the attempt to keep poetry futuristic is failed, as younger generations are the future.
    To entertain this target audience, it would be a good idea to have other up and coming poets as judges, as it would keep the league fresh and evolving, which is appealing to a younger audience.
    This is a clip of a Don’t Flop battle on YouTube, although the content is consistent with hip hop themes, obviously it would not be the same for a poetry league, as an appropriate theme would be set: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tp4wEewrQdU
    I understand that many people would have a problem, if a league like this was set up, with the competition factor. However, these type of events would need the competition factor, as it draws in viewers and pushes the poets to write better material- and never mind this, a bit of competition is fun! Hope I helped!

  23. I think The best way to bring out poetry letting the people know what it is by themselves.
    First we need to be practical. It’s like it will be better to taste a performance than just reading poetry.
    We better create events like poetry meaning seeking, poetry open competitions, Recitation competitions.
    And while doing that, we can broadcast poetry events through medias. There can be poetry reality shows, exactly like recitations, but in a very professional way with respect.
    I am not going to harm any concept in discipline, but I think majority of people don’t know what poetry is. They only think that is a boring subject. We need to bring out poetry as same as how they brought songs. When people love the rhythm of the song, I don’t bother to think that they will bother to accept wonderful morals and meanings. 🙂 But in that case, we need to be close to modern culture, modern themes. (I don’t try to mean anything against the way poetry has come.)

    Thank you.

  24. I think that we should bring in poetry through music.
    Lots of great songs are amazing pieces of poetry set to music. So I think that we should either make some good poems into songs and music – using TV/YouTube/Radio/iTunes etc to get them well known – and then people are seeing them in this new way.
    The fact they are poetry could be pointed out, or not. Depending on how we think that will affect people listening to them in the first place.

    If we want to go for getting schools involved, we should bring in more new and modern poetry into the schools, as well as the traditional Shakespeare and sonnets etc.

  25. We should project a poem onto the moon for all the world to see. Different poems from different cultures for everyday of the year… something to make you smile and bring peace to the heart.

  26. Hi, I have noticed that at schools, lots of students are interested in modern poetry-it could be an idea to introduce more modern poems and unheard of poets into lessons.
    If it were possible, there could be a ‘read a poem day’ where you have to read at least one poem.
    You could also organize poetry vote scheme which allows people to read and vote for their favorite poems from a choice.
    See more poems in advertisements/adverts (maybe if poems were read through music then it would attract and interest a wider audience).
    I think we could also create more poetry pages and videos on social networks, (Facebook, Twitter, My Space etc, YouTube, True Tube etc).
    Also to try an encourage people from an early age and organize more poetry competitions in schools/youth groups and study poetry.
    Printed posters with poems on are a good eye-catcher for people to see; as well as scrolling adverts on Widely used websites.

  27. I think we should use graffiti. Naturally council approved, but Banksy-esque. That sort of clear, distinctive, attractive print.
    Put lines of poetry on lamp-posts where people scrawl their names, on the lids of bins, on the bottom of signs. Even get local theatres and galleries involved, wallpaper alleyways with everything from Carol-Ann Duffy to Shakespeare. No, we don’t know what kind of reaction it would get, but it would definitely get people talking….

  28. METHODS:
    1. Praise
    2. Poetic devices
    3. Correlate to something they like
    4. Add humor (limericks)
    5. Short composition
    6. Make videos

    Well, basically people equalize the term “poetry” with “boredom”. Yes, improvement in technology will prove out to be helpful in embracing the world in the world of poetry. My friends hate poetry of the “real” poets, but not mine! Because I’ve used some tricks, not the technology though, but yeah, tricks. Remember, people like to be praised. So my friends like reading poems which I dedicate to them, because it’s full of appreciation. Many of them aren’t familiar with the poetic devices (alliteration, rhymes, repetition, imagery, irony etc.) but their subconscious mind is completely aware of it and they love it. As a result, many ask me to “teach” them how to compose poems (no ego!) but well, poetry is an art and I believe that an art cannot be taught, it comes from within the heart!
    Now suppose you want to write a poem that is fancied by certain people then correlate the poem to something “they” like. For example, if teachers want to write poems which they wish the kids (or school students) should read with complete concentration, which will only develop with interest and passion, then they should write poems on sports, or computer games or stuffs like that. If they want the children to learn a lesson from the poem, they can use the things they enjoy as a medium for it.
    Humor works a lot! Limericks are really very interesting and the people reading it may wish to compose one by themselves.
    What people hate is “long composition”. Surely, no one would want to read a poem of 40 lines or such. A real artistic poet is skilled in conveying his message and adding beauty to his poem in a very compact way, that is to say, he/she can compose “short” poems that make as much sense and are as beautiful as the “long” ones which amateurs like me compose. Also, usage of flowery language adds to the poems beauty. Make the title of the poem mysterious, and yet attractive, so that the readers can’t resist but get driven by the desire to ‘peek’ to see what is it?
    How many of us don’t like to watch videos of songs, say Taylor’s Enchanted, Akon’s One More Time, Enrique’s Heartbeat? Well, if we make the poems “live”, the message and beauty can be easily demonstrated. Talk about William Shakespeare, common people, though quite aware of his fame of poetry, do not read his poems. Why? It’s because they don’t understand the meaning that’s conveyed deep inside. So, if we try to show what “it’s really all about” through videos (making them attractive by use of the latest technologies), and perhaps if some famous celebrities, say singers like Britney Spears sing the poems like a song with beautiful background scenes and all, then yes, I believe that people would begin to see “There is something beautiful hidden beyond the term poetry!”.
    I hope this helped!

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