What is Poetry City?

Formerly called the Mayor’s Poetry City Challenge, Poetry City is an annual celebration of poetry facilitated by mayors and city councils all across Canada. A challenge is distributed to mayors across the country encouraging them to invite a local poet to do a short reading at a city council meeting in March or April. The timing of the challenge is set to align with UNESCO World Poetry Day on March 21, and National Poetry Month in April. Poetry City also encourages municipalities to formally declare World Poetry Day and National Poetry Month as a means of bring poetry into the public eye.

What is UNESCO World Poetry Day?

A decision to proclaim World Poetry Day was adopted during UNESCO’s 30th session in 1999 to recognize the unique ability of poetry to capture the creative spirit of the human mind. One of the main objectives of the Day is to support linguistic diversity through poetic expression and to offer endangered languages the opportunity to be heard within their communities.

The observance of World Poetry Day is also meant to encourage a return to the oral tradition of poetry recitals, to promote the teaching of poetry, to restore a dialogue between poetry and the other arts such as theatre, dance, music and painting, and to support small publishers and create an attractive image of poetry in the media, so that the art of poetry will no longer be considered an outdated form of art, but one which enables society as a whole to regain and assert its identity.

Find out more by visiting the UNESCO website.

What is National Poetry Month?

National Poetry Month began in the US in 1996, spearheaded by the Academy of American Poets on the steps of a post office in New York City. There, the story goes, Academy staff members handed out copies of T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Waste Land,” which begins, “April is the cruellest month…” to individuals waiting in line to mail their tax returns. Established in Canada in April 1998 by the League, NPM now brings together schools, publishers, booksellers, literary organizations, libraries, and poets from across the country to celebrate poetry and its vital place in Canada’s culture.

Find out more about National Poetry Month at poets.ca/npm.

How can poets celebrate Poetry City?

If you are a poet interested in celebrating Poetry City, the first step is to find out if your city is a confirmed participant! An updated list of Poetry City participants can be found at poets.ca/poetrycity. If a city is not yet participating, we encourage poets to approach their city council and let them know about the challenge. The League is happy to send a physical challenge package to any communities that didn’t receive one!

If your city is already participating and has booked a poet for a reading already, or if they will not be participating, poets can still celebrate Poetry City by organizing their own events that bring together politics and poetry! Poetry City aims to bring poetry into unusual public spaces: you could organize a Poetry City reading in a park, for instance! If you’re holding a Poetry City-specific event, feel free to email details to info@poets.ca.

My city/town didn’t receive a challenge package; can we still participate in Poetry City?

Yes! All Poetry City materials are available at poets.ca/poetrycity, and the League is also happy to send out a physical challenge package to any municipalities that didn’t receive one but would like to participate.

How should my city select which poet(s) should read for our Poetry City event?

If your city has a Poet Laureate, we encourage you to invite them to read with another local poet—they might even have a recommendation!

You can reach out to publishers in your area, as well as libraries and creative writing programs. You can use the League member directory to search by province, although unfortunately our search doesn’t get more specific than that. Should all these resources fail, or provide too cumbersome, we recommend contacting your provincial writers’ association! You can find a contact sheet in this package.

We confirmed our participating and we have a poet—what now?

The specifics of the evening are up to you! Most cities invite the poet to read at the very start of the council meeting, for anywhere from 3 to 15 minutes. We do recommend compensating poets for their time, although this is not a mandatory element of participation in Poetry City. As a point of reference, with the support of the Canada Council, the League provides poets who apply to our funding program with an approximately $100 honorarium for readings around 15 minutes long.