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Last Updated: Thursday, 5 October 2006, 15:20 GMT 16:20 UK
Brave voices sing poetry's praise
Greig Watson
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Tishani Doshi
Poet Tishani Doshi believes the art is seen as distant
"It's just what people need right now - a high dosage, intensive injection of lyricism, beauty and passion."

So says John Burnside, poet, writer and the chair of judges on the Forward prize for poetry.

But with National Poetry Day seemingly stuck in quiet church halls and municipal buildings, the advocates of mass market verse have their work cut out.

So what do these most articulate voices see as the way forward for their art?

"Poetry doesn't have to become relevant, it is relevant," insists Burnside. "We turn to it in tough situations, when we are in moving situations and in tender situations.

"We bring it out when we marry, bury and christen, it's part of our lives - it's just that we forget it sometimes."

Results of street fighting in Baghdad
This creativity is more important than ever in these times of violence and destruction
Michael Horovitz, poet
He adds: "People were perhaps put off by the way it was taught, searching for meaning and sociological context.

"Poetry isn't about that, it goes straight to the heart, the brain, the guts if you like.

"No poem worth its salt provokes just one emotion."

Michael Horovitz, an icon of the 1960s art scene, believes the role of poetry if more important than ever.

"It can remind human beings of their original qualities," he said. "A beating heart, a speaking mind and a singing voice.

"And this creativity is more important than ever in these times of violence and destruction.

"Poetry speaks from the heart, from the conscience, instead of the language of negotiation or the language of financial competition.

"It's the language of ordinary human relations, without ulterior motive. It's the highest form of language with no sense of exploitation."

You can't force people to read poetry, in fact that would be the death of it
Gary McKeone, Arts Council England
Tishani Doshi, a journalist who has won awards for her poetry, feels the community has to look to itself to gain recognition.

"It's a question of how we can make poetry more relevant. It has lost some of its appeal, to many it seems like an indulgence.

"We have to create an audience. There are places across the world where thousands gather to listen to poetry but not often here.

"There are business issues with publishing and buying, but mostly we must make it accessible. We need brave decisions and brave voices to stretch out further, so people feel like it does affect them."

Gary McKeone, director of literature at the Arts Council England, said: "National Poetry Day is important because it asks people to think about poetry, get involved in it, enjoy it.

"You can't force people to read poetry, in fact that would be the death of it, so marketing it in any way is tricky.

"So we aim to make good poetry as widely available as possible and then it is up to people to discover it - and it is a wonderful discovery."

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