March 21 was first adopted as the World Poetry Day by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in 1999, during its 30th General Conference in Paris. The aim was to support linguistic diversity through poetic expression and increasing the opportunity for endangered languages to be heard.

UNESCO says World Poetry Day is the occasion to honour poets, revive oral traditions of poetry recitals, promote the reading, writing and teaching of poetry, foster the convergence between poetry and other arts such as theatre, dance, music and painting, and raise the visibility of poetry in the media.

The day is celebrated across continents.

“Poetry is not a luxury. It lies at the heart of who we are as women and men, living together today, drawing on the heritage of past generations, custodians of the world for our children and grandchildren. By celebrating poetry today, we celebrate our ability to join together, in a spirit of solidarity, to scale and climb “the cloudy summits of our time.” We need this to take forward the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, to implement the Paris Climate Agreement, to ensure no woman or man is left behind,” UNESCO Director-General Irina Bokova had said in her World Poetry Day message for 2017.

HOW IT STARTED

According to the proclamation document, the UN Secretariat drew up a feasibility study after the Moroccan National Commission put in a request wishing an item to be included in the agenda of the Executive Board on the desirability of proclaiming an International Poetry Day. The study was submitted to the Executive Board at its 157th session.

The document set out the results of an international consultation on the desirability of proclaiming an International Poetry Day, organised with the involvement of international non-governmental organizations of writers and poets, in particular International PEN, and poetry centres connected with UNESCO.

An international survey was conducted by UNESCO with 50-odd national, international and regional organizations specialising in poetry as respondents. The purpose was to seek the views of poetic circles in different geocultural regions of the world on the form that such a proclamation might take.

It was envisaged, among other things, an International Poetry Day would be celebrated each year on a set date, and a world event would be organised in honour of poetry in a different member state each year.

A meeting was held on 26 March, 1999, at the UNESCO Headquarters, on the advisability of proclaiming an International Poetry Day. At least 15 poets and representatives of leading poetry centres in the various geocultural regions participated.

It was discussed that poetry could meet the unfulfilled aesthetic needs felt in the contemporary world its social role of interpersonal communication was recognised.

All those consulted on the project showed a keen interest in the proposal that UNESCO should undertake global action in favour of poetry that would give recognition and fresh impetus to national, regional and international poetic movements. The main objective was to support linguistic diversity through poetic expression and to offer endangered languages the opportunity to be heard within their communities.

After studying the different forms that such action might take, it was agreed that 21 March, the first day of spring in the northern hemisphere, should be proclaimed International Poetry Day.

It was decided that this day could provide an occasion for activities and efforts carried out at different levels to support poetry and more particularly to promote the efforts of small publishers struggling to enter the book market, a return to live performances of poetry recitals, restoration of a dialogue between poetry and other art forms, among other things.

It was recommended that each country should celebrate 21 March in its own way, with the active participation of NGOs and the public and private institutions concerned such as schools, poetic communities, museums, associations, publishing houses, and local authorities.

The Executive Board, at its 157th session, then adopted the decision to recommend that the General Conference at its 30th session approve the proclamation of 21 March as World Poetry Day.

On November 3, 1999, the UNESCO General Conference at its 30th session proclaimed 21 March as the World Poetry Day.