About National Poetry Day

National Poetry Day themes 1999-2023

2020 – Vision

2020 was a whirlwind of a year, but through it all, people still came together – physically and virtually – to #SeeItLikeaPoet.

We held our first ever 24 Hour Poetry Lock-in on IG Live with booktuber Leena Norms, and a host of your favourite poets, including Nikita Gill, Inua Ellams, Don Paterson and a special session with Cerys Matthews.

Liv Torc brought the nation together with haiku’s via her #ProjectHaiflu initiative, supported by NPD, Forward Arts Foundation, the British Library and Arts Council England. Thousands of people submitted poems and photographs which were built into short films, released on Liv’s YouTube channel.

Former Children’s Laureate, Observer political cartoonist, poetry lover, award-winning writer and illustrator, Chris Riddell OBE, took viewers on a visual journey by live-illustrating a selection of his favourite poems from his new poetry anthology, Poems To Save The World With. With special guest appearances and readings from Foyle Young Poet Khushi Daryani and Brian Bilston, whose witty bite-sized verses have won him the accolade of “the poet laureate of Twitter.”

2019 – Truth

National Poetry Day turned 25 in 2019! The theme this year was Truth.

Our anniversary year celebrations included the launch of the #MyNPDPoem challenge with CLPE, and our first YouTube competition #SpeakYourTruthPoem supported by The Space.

Our anthology, Tell Me the Truth About Life edited by Cerys Matthews, is available to purchase here, and you can still listen to the associated podcast series, featuring some of our most well-known contributors here.

2018 – Change

Poetry took over on 4 October, National Poetry Day, in an explosion of events and celebrations! It was across the airwaves from morning to night and poets themselves gave readings the length and breadth of the country, not just in poetry venues but on buses, on trains, in metro stations and in offices, and of course in schools and libraries and bookshops and pubs. Hundreds of thousands of people shared the poetry they love with friends and neighbours, and everyone enjoyed #poetryforachange.

Our special Poetry for a Change anthology is still available to buy, find out more here.

2017 – Freedom

National Poetry Day 2017 saw the launch of a major new four-day festival (Contains Strong Language) devoted to spoken word in Hull, 2017 UK City of Culture, a partnership with the BBC, Hull UK City of Culture and Humber Mouth and other poetry organisations.  There were hundreds of events across the UK and Ireland in celebration with the nation being invited to ‘share a poem’ on Thursday 28 September, 2017.

For a second year running National Poetry Day partnered with BBC Local Radio. Taking their cue from National Poetry Day’s 2017 theme – Freedom – BBC Local Radio across England called on listeners to ‘Free the word’: nominating a truly distinctive local word that deserves to be better known nationally.  These 12 chosen words were then offered to a local poet as the creative spark for a new poem, broadcast on the BBC on National Poetry Day, 28th September with Hull 17 poet Isiah Hull composing and performing an overarching poem using the 12 selected local words at the Contains Strong Language festival in Hull.

National Poetry Day also announced its first ever dedicated book trade promotion highlighting 40 inspiring poetry books in four wide-ranging categories: anthologies, children’s poetry, current collections and poetry for book groups. The campaign’s aim – to enable all to enjoy, discover and share poetry – was supported by 19 publishers, from Penguin Random House, Bloomsbury and Macmillan to tiny independents like Penned in the Margins and Burning Eye.

Visit England focussed its ‘Literary Heroes’ campaign on poets and poetry in September, commissioning poets Andrew McMillan and Remi Graves to rework much-loved classics for the 21st century. Andrew transplanted Wordsworth’s Daffodils to urban Manchester and Remi used Blake’s London to explore Kings Cross. Films of their new poems were released on National Poetry Day.

On board staff of Virgin Trains included poetry in their announcements on the day; and Royal Mail postmarked millions of items of mail nationwide with National Poetry Day 28 September: an honour reserved only for special occasions and significant events.

Glasgow marked the day with pop-up poetry events across the city; in Yorkshire, the number 59 bus route from Wakefield to Barnsley was taken over by poets and musicians, while Bradford, Unesco City of Film, featured poems on its Big Screen. St Pancras Station, the Old Vic Theatre, Soho’s L’Escargot restaurant are just three of many London venues who put poetry before the public in surprising and delightful ways.

National Poetry Day ambassador and artist Sophie Herxheimer created illustrations for a set of resources: posters, stickers, badges, bookmarks and DIY templates. These were sent into schools, libraries and bookshops across the UK to add even more colour to the celebrations.

2016 – Messages

The 2016 theme for National Poetry Day was “messages” and in preparation we produced resources for primary schools and secondary schools looking at everything from love letters between inanimate objects, to the Loch Ness monster’s song. With the help of Macmillan Children’s Books and our poetry ambassadors we put together an eBook collecting some fabulous poems exploring our messages theme.

From the moment the day itself kicked off – with a reading of a Seamus Heaney sonnet by HRH the Prince of Wales, broadcast on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme – we noted a surge in enthusiasm for poetry in all conceivable contexts. Railway stations gave away tickets printed with poems, the Royal Mail created a special poetry postmark for its parcels and letters, while artists, musicians and actors – from Ricky Gervais to Joanna Lumley,  PJ Harvey and Chris Riddell –  all championed the art of saying it with a poem. Poet, short-story writer, bookseller and vlogger Jen Campbell produced a short film, offering tips on how to share poems on National Poetry Day.

Random acts of poetry committed by undercover poets include the decoration of shop windows, the guerilla sharing of poems on public transport, the sending of poetry via carrier pigeons, paper boats and even balloons.

BBC Local Poets

In an unprecedented lyrical mapping of the English landscape, BBC Local Radio commissioned forty poets to adopt the voice of a local landmark and each create a new poem: the results included celebrations of pot-holed highways, hard-ware shops and even the humble Lincolnshire Sausage alongside mighty cathedrals, mountains and lighthouses. The whole astonishing anthology – filmed as well as recorded – can be seen on the BBC local radio website.

Channel 4 Ident Takeover

Poets also took over the television as guest continuity announcers took over Channel 4’s on-air continuity as the broadcaster celebrated National Poetry Day 2016.  Watch some of the clips featuring both established poets and young writers.

Felix Dennis Prize new commissions

Forward Arts Foundation asked the poets shortlisted for the Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection to create a new poem on the theme of ‘messages’ to celebrate National Poetry Day 2016. Not only did the poets respond with written poems, they sent us audio recordings, films and a digital text generating engine! See some of the resulting poems and films.

2015 – Light

National Poetry Day, the annual mass celebration of poetry and all things poetical, marked its 21st birthday on Thursday 8 October 2015. Co-commissioned by Thirteen Ways and The Space in partnership with Forward Arts Foundation and the BBC, a collection of stunning films featuring Sean Bean, Samantha Morton and Professor Stephen Hawking reading poems by Dylan Thomas, Hafez and Sarah Howe. What does it mean, to see the world as a poet does? The best responses to our Make Like A Poet digital challenge were blazed across Blackpool Lights on the day.

You can still download our free National Poetry Day anthology of Light Poems here, and check out the specially commissioned ‘Light‘ poems from the five Forward Prizes poets shortlisted for the First Collection Prize. The National Poetry Day Partners collaborated to create these fantastic free educational resources for primary and secondary schools. Every year, all are invited to join in, breaking with the tyranny of prose by thinking of a poem and sharing it imaginative ways, with the hashtags #nationalpoetryday and #thinkofapoem.

The airwaves were full of verse, while poetry-spouting flash-mobs and impromptu poetry festivals popped up in unexpected places, from train carriages to shops, streets, offices and waiting rooms. In schools and libraries, members of Chatterbooks book clubs plunged into poetry, while thousands of students marked the day with a Readathon. Using the theme, proprietors of lighting shops and lighthouses, opticians and photographers are among the professions participating. In Bristol, one of the National Poetry Day ambassadors, the poet Liz Brownlee even rounded up the city’s light workers – including an astronomer, a firefighter, a cosmologist, a fire-eater and many more – to read poems about light for films to be displayed on the Big Screen in the city centre. Dr John Cooper Clarke wrote the ‘Nation’s Ode to the Coast’, filmed beautifully by the National Trust.

On BBC Radio 4, Andrew Marr, Dominic West and some of Britain’s most-loved poets and performers marked the day by weaving poetry into the schedule from early morning until late at night. There was poetry for breakfast with Helen Mort, courtesy of Poet in the City. The Poetry Postie went on her morning rounds. The airwaves were poetry-filled on 6 Music and Radio 3 too. On Channel 4 the continuity was kept by poets. There was Poetry in the Piazza, the now traditional open mic in the middle of Covent Garden. The Scottish Poetry Library unveiled their Big Words on the Royal Mile, ‘Spiral’ by Elizabeth Burns was a huge poem that day. There was Night poetry and music. There was late night poetry, and jazz.

2014 – Remember


Alan Bennet reading Larkin on the Today programme. Michael Sheen and Aardman creating a short animation of Dylan Thomas poem. Thousands of participants sharing their favourite lines of poetry online in the  #thinkofapoem challenge. Poetry ambulances. Poetry police. Poetry fire-brigades. Poetry tube-stations. Poetry supermarkets, parks, bus-stops and post-boxes.

Poetry is the one art form you can keep in your head, and last year Cambridge University launched a massive Poetry and Memory survey on National Poetry Day to discover what poems the nation remembers.  Poetry is sticky and stays with you: surprise us with what you know.

Teachers and students can keep the NPD spirit alive all year by using our free activity/lesson plans and cool posters and sharing the fun via Twitter #thinkofapoem. You can still download a set of eight new poems for primary school children by five leading contemporary children’s poets.


2013 – Water, water everywhere

We had Fern Hill by Dylan Thomas, read by the Prince of Wales (with the faintest of Welsh lilts). We commissioned a gorgeous 30 second animation. We had Carol Ann Duffy, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Sean O’BrienPam Ayres, Alice Oswald, Felix Dennis, Jo Shapcott, E J Thribb, Lemn Sissay, Simon Armitage, the Vogons, George the Poet…. We relished the Grimsby fishermen speaking the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, performance poets posted throughout the London underground, Jordan from Rizzle Kicks showing off his tattoo of Kipling’s If alongside Mr Gee at Wembley and the 24 hour incarceration of four Welsh poets, with pen, paper, coffee and orders to create 100 new poems. John Cooper Clarke, the original iconoclastic punk poet, was live-streamed  from Newcastle to 14 venues throughout the land – from Dundee to Southampton. A new Young Poet Laureate for London was announced at the House of Commons.  We assembled poems, films, lesson plans, activities  and posters here to help you celebrate with us and each other.



2012 – Stars

We celebrated National Poetry Day 2012 on 4th October. Sparked from the theme of Stars, Inua Ellams staged an intergalactic interactive poem on Twitter. The Peace Camp tents came to Southbank Centre for a brief visit, and you could stargaze inside (see photo above). The Poetry Society’s NPD Live at Southbank Centre included Roger McGough, Grace Nichols, Rachel Rooney, Helen Mort and Christopher Reid.

We commissioned some star-studded lesson plans from Cheryl Moscowitz. You still can download the KS1 and KS2 here.

2011 – Games

In 2011, we gamely celebrated National Poetry Day on 6th October. Carol Ann Duffy, poet laureate, read in The Big Tent in Wimbledon from her new collection ‘The Bees’. Wendy Cope hosted ‘Games People Play,’ her interpretation of the theme.

Katy Evans-Bush wrote a roundup of what poetry looks like on National Poetry Day: like “1,000 people at any given point in a whole afternoon, jammed into the most central open public building in London. We thought this only happened in the sixties! It was like Woodstock! Who says we can’t pull ’em in?”

The Telegraph reported on a poetical event in Lancashire. “Two rival car dealerships have declared a poetry war. Bowker BMW staff in Preston and Blackburn are currently engaged in a battle of rhyming couplets which began two weeks ago after each staff member was challenged to write and submit a short poem between four and 12 lines long. The poems have been shortlisted online for public vote and the winner will be announced on the 9th October. The prize? Glory for the dealership of course, oh and dinner for two at Huntley’s in Samlesbury.”

2010 – Home

Room Inside from Broadway Nottingham on Vimeo.

2010’s National Poetry Day featured a wonderful film commissioned by Fox Create. The film is a montage of people reciting the poem ‘Room Inside’ by Philip Gross. It was screened at Broadway on National Poetry Day and has also been screened at the London Southbank Centre and Ledbury Poetry Festival.

Watch Simon Armitage reading ‘Kid‘, a poem he wrote when he heard they were thinking of dropping Robin from Batman series. ‘I always thought Robin had the most important things to say, and the nicest costume.’

Download some wonderful lesson plans by Mandy Coe from the TES here.

2009 – Heroes and Heroines

2008 – Work

2007 – Dreams

2006 – Identity

2005 – The Future

2004 – Food

2003 – Britain

2002 – Celebration

2001 – Journeys

2000 – Fresh Voices

1999 – Song Lyrics