Poems rain down on London
03:00 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Helicopter hovers over central London, scattering 100,000 poems on to delighted crowds

One poet included from each country participating in Olympic Games

"Rain of Poems" marks beginning of what is being described as biggest gathering of poets

London CNN  — 

It’s midsummer in London and it’s raining. For once, however, everyone seems very pleased about the matter. 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.

Casagrande’s Cristoball Brianchi says the forthcoming Olympic Games made London the perfect target.

“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 wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o’er dale and hill
  • And all at once I saw a crowd: the sight with joy my heart did fill.
  • A thousand merry revellers, who ran and jumped with gleeful heart
  • To pluck a poem from the air…but hang on how did all this start?
  • We stood beneath the London Eye and craned our necks up to the sky
  • A helicopter hovered there above the crowd’s collective stare
  • The aircraft then disgorged its load, on grass and garden, street and road
  • And presently the sky was dark, with poems raining on the park.
  • Casagrande was the name of those who planned this artful game
  • Benign bombardment - words not war – carried from a distant shore
  • Poetry from every land – Olympic nations hand-in-hand
  • Devoid of sweat or strength or speed, fulfilling an artistic need.
  • We stopped and read the verse we found, swapped and shared and passed them round.
  • From Chile, Jordan, Palestine, the words devoured line by line
  • Ethiopia, North Korea, tales of friendship, flight and fear
  • I felt inspired to be a poet – but this is rubbish and I know it!

    “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.”

    “A lot of the things that are in the Cultural Olympics are free and you don’t have to pay an extortionate amount to go and see a celebration when you’ve got a thousand people here having fun and all it is is poems falling from the sky, which is something that doesn’t happen every day.”

    A beaming among the crowds turned out to be Christian Leon – Cultural Attache at London’s Chilean Embassy, who was proud that his countrymen had staged the Rain of Poems.

    “You feel like a little child running to catch one of those lovely poems and as you know Chile is the country of poets with two Nobel Prizes in Literature – both of them poets. It’s the best thing we can bring to this country in order to celebrate the Olympics.”

    As the deluge of verse continued, people on the ground began to get in touch with their own inner poet. The area was soon awash with whimsical people reading aloud to each other.

    A team of cleaners was on hand to gather up any mess – in the event most of the poems were gathered up and taken home by those who found them – and any poems which fell in the nearby River Thames were designed to dissolve, leaving no trace of poetry on the ground. But it was clear that poetry had left its mark on many who witnessed the curious event. People like Attache Leon, who told us: “Poetry is life. Poetry is happiness. Poetry is absolutely everything!”