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Promoting literacy, cultural understanding through poetry


World Poetry Day, celebrated on March 21 every year, was adopted during the 30th session of United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) in Paris in November, 1999, to encourage the reading, writing, publishing, and teaching of poetry worldwide, as well as to support creative expression and endangered languages. “Poetry is a window into the breathtaking diversity of humanity,” UNESCO says.

The day promotes a return to the oral tradition of poetry recitals and strengthens the association between poetry and other forms of expression, such as dance, music, and painting. Poets read and share their work with audiences at bookstores, cafes, universities, and other schools.

The Philippines joins the global celebration of World Poetry Day. In addition, it holds its Balagtas Day every April 2 to honor Francisco Balagtas, the “Prince of Tagalog Poets,” who wrote the classic “Florante at Laura.” Most Filipino poets write in either English or Tagalog, but there are some who excel in verse in Cebuano, Bicolano, Iloko, Pangasinense, Hiligaynon, and Zamboanga Chabacano. The annual Palanca Awards recognizes the outstanding works of Filipino poets.

Poetry is a type of artistic expression that emphasizes feelings and ideas by using different styles and rhythms. It promotes literacy as well as cross-cultural understanding, and reflects on the power of language and the poet’s facility of expression and creativity. Poetry may be written independently, as discrete poems, or may be in conjunction with other arts, as in poetic drama, hymns, lyrics, and prose poetry. Types of poems worldwide include: Tula or Tanaga (Philippines), Haiku (Japan), Ode (ancient Greece), Ruba’I (Iran), and Canzone (Italy). The Indian epic Mahabharata, the longest poem in the world, contains 1.8 million words. The oldest love poem – Istanbul 2461 – was written on a clay tablet during the Sumerian times, in 3500 BC.

Popular Viennese coffee company Julius Meinl celebrates World Poetry Day with its fourth annual “pay with a poem” campaign. Its over 1,000 outlets in 34 countries offer consumers a chance to pay for a hot beverage with a handwritten poem. For 2017, the brand hopes to surpass the 100,000 people who put pen to paper during last year’s campaign. Most poets frequent coffeehouses to hatch ideas or discuss them with other poets.

Local coffee shop Kamuning Bakery joins the “pay with a poem” initiative in coffee shops worldwide by handing out drinks in exchange for poems. Customers may bring a poem in any language (Bisaya, Sambal, Ilocano, Spanish, Cantonese, Arabic) to receive a free cup of coffee or tea. Writers may also present a magazine or book where their work is printed to receive the free drink.

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