Some 100,000 poems will be dropped over London's south bank to open the 'biggest gathering of poets in history'
London is set to be bombarded by poetry on Tuesday evening as Chilean arts collective Casagrande prepares to drop 100,000 poems from a helicopter over the south bank of the Thames.
The event, which opens what is being called the biggest gathering of poets in world history, Poetry Parnassus, will take place at 9.15pm on Tuesday over the Southbank Centre's Jubilee Gardens, next to the London Eye. The half-tonne of bookmark-shaped poems are by more than 300 contemporary poets from 204 countries, includingSeamus Heaney, Jo Shapcott, Kay Ryan and Alain Mabanckou.
"We want to create an image in the sky over these urban spaces that were bombed in the past," said Cristóbal Bianchi from Casagrande, which has also dropped poems on Berlin, Warsaw, Guernica, Dubrovnik and Santiago. "The idea is to repeat this event in places which were bombed from the air in a completely different context."
The first "poetry bombing" took place in Chile, after dictator Augusto Pinochet was imprisoned, "as an outlet for the great joy we found in finally being able to express ourselves, particularly in public spaces", said Casagrande, which describes the event as "an expression of peace and healing".
A poem by a poet from each of the 204 Olympic nations is included in the bombardment, along with 50 additional poems by Chilean poets and 50 by UK poets. Shapcott is representing Britain, with Phrase Book ("I'm standing here inside my skin,/ which will do for a Human Remains Pouch/ for the moment"); Heaney is representing Ireland, with The Underground ("There we were in the vaulted tunnel running,/ You in your going-away coat speeding ahead"); and Mabanckou Congo-Brazzaville with There is Nothing Worse ("there is nothing worse/ than the grief of black-rhun palms/ the sleep of swamps/ the silence of passerines").
With hundreds of spectators expected to watch the "rain of poetry", Bianchi predicted that not a single poem would be left behind once it is over. "Every time we have done this before there is not a single bookmark on the ground – people collect them all," he said. "People fight for the poems, and it becomes a collective reading of poetry."
Many of the poets involved will also be appearing at Southbank Centre's Poetry Parnassus, a week-long celebration of poetry that starts on Tuesday and will see readings and performances in many languages. Dreamed up by the centre's poet-in-residence Simon Armitage, it is intended to echo the poetic spirit of the ancient Olympic Games.