It was afternoon tea, with tea foods spread out
Like in the books, except that it was coffee.
Monday is UNESCO World Poetry Day. "The voices that carry poetry help to promote linguistic diversity and freedom of expression. They participate in the global effort towards artistic education and the dissemination of culture," said UNESCO director-general Irina Bokova. "The first word of a poem sometimes suffices to regain confidence in the face of adversity, to find the path of hope in the face of barbarity. In the age of automation and the immediacy of modern life, poetry also opens a space for the freedom and adventure inherent in human dignity.... I applaud the practitioners, actors, storytellers and all those anonymous voices committed to and through poetry, giving readings in the shadows or in the spotlights, in gardens or streets."
But let's talk about coffee, and what we might call a Cool Idea of the World Poetry Day.
Pay with a Poem is sponsored by Julius Meinl coffees and teas, which notes on its website: "Poetry can make a better world. On March 21st, World Poetry Day, we let our imagination wonder. We dream of a place where money is replaced by emotions. A better world. For one day, we're changing the currency in coffeehouses around the globe. And Julius Meinl coffees or teas will be paid with your poems. Pay with a Poem is a global initiative from Julius Meinl happening every year, wider and wider with every edition. An initiative getting famous poets and everyday poets together.... Sharpen your pencils and join us... in more than 30 countries and more than 1,000 participating locations serving Julius Meinl. #PoetryForChange #PayWithAPoem."
For 2016, artist and poet Robert Montgomery is Meinl's global ambassador. "Just like us, he's making poetry relevant to everyday life. Using new media, his work appears as unexpected large-scale billboards, light sculptures and fire poems," the company noted.
"I did a piece this year that ends with the statement: Money is a superstition," Montgomery recalled. "The longer poem says: Eagles live on the rooftops/ Not as symbols/ Just as eagles/ They remember the sky/ Money is a superstition.... So I love the idea that we can make our own currency of diverse statements. And people can bring a piece of paper, the same as a piece of money, but they can write their own message, their own fantasy, their own poem, and they can pay with that. I think every person is a poet. It's not like inside every person is a secret poet. I think every person has the ability to be a poet."
The Guardian noted that Montgomery "will mark the occasion by collecting up all the public contributions and turning them into an art installation in a secret London location."
Last year, the Guardian cautioned "it's not clear if cashiers will be exercising their critical judgment ('This comparison between your girlfriend and a red, red rose is a little overfamiliar--I'll have to insist on a rewrite'), whether they'll be focusing on quality or quantity ('This haiku is very nicely turned, but I don't think it'll stretch to a skinny frappucino extra-grande with the extra slice of melon'), or what kind of rights your barista will acquire over your work."
In any case, on Monday people can "Pay with a Poem" in Croatia, Austria, Portugal, Australia and many more countries, but what if you don't live near a participating location (the U.S., except for Chicago)? Well, you could be like Devdan Chaudhuri and just create your own "Pay with a Poem" option.
In a piece headlined "Let poetry pay for your cuppa," the Times of India reported that thanks to the efforts of Chaudhuri (author of Anatomy of Life and executive member of Poetry Paradigm), tomorrow "three coffee joints in [Kolkata] will be accepting a poem as a mode of payment for a cuppa" to encourage the habit of reading and writing poetry. Since "some Kolkata cafes are shut on Monday, we decided to host the event on Saturday," he said.
Malavika Banerjee, who owns the Byloom Cafe, plans to display the poems on her bulletin board: "I run a literature festival in the city. There is a connection between poetry, cafe and literature. So, I decided to be a part of this initiative." Partha Sarathi Bose, owner of Delices, said: "I liked this initiative. If a person comes up to me and offers an original poem, I will be happy to serve a black coffee or cup of Darjeeling tea." And Cafe Sienna's Shuili Ghosh noted that poetry criticism will be muted: "One can't be harsh with people if they don't submit something that's good enough."
My World Poetry Day Café plan this year involves a chair on the sunny deck of our house, a steaming mug of java and three recently purchased poetry collections: Voyage of the Sable Venus by Robin Coste Lewis, The Late Poems of Wang An-shih (trans. by David Hinton) and Sor Juana Juana Inés de la Cruz: Selected Works (trans. by Edith Grossman).
For many, many years, I have "measured out my life with coffee spoons," and poems. Monday I'll celebrate both with the world. --Robert Gray, contributing editor (column archives available at Fresh Eyes Now)