"Each poem is unique but each reflects the universal in human experience, the aspiration for creativity that crosses all boundaries and borders, of time as well as space, in the constant affirmation of humanity as a single family." -- Irina Bokova, Director-General of UNESCO
"Let's show the world that feelings are more valuable than money" -- Julius Meinl Coffee Shop
While UNESCO gamely, and without any apparent sense of irony, encouraged the world to celebrate World Poetry Day yesterday with awkward tips such as "Read up about riddles, limericks and sonnets to liven up your evenings" (#4) and "Fight against the outdated image of poetry" (#5), a chain of cafes set its sights on the middle of a Venn diagram of poets, caffeine addicts, and penny pinchers by offering a coffee to customers who wrote them a poem. Under the painfully bad premise that "the more we do, the less we feel", Julius Meinl urged us to slow down to... have feelings... and then express them in a hasty iambic pentameter written for the sole purpose of scoring a cup of coffee.
On one hand, #PayWithAPoem is a laudable initiative in its ability to drum up more awareness, however superficial, of World Poetry Day than UNESCO's well-meaning but staid website. On the other, it certainly opens the doors to cynicism on several levels. Does the ability to buy an Americano with a poem belittle the efforts of those for whom poetry is an inevitable, undeniable expression of their very being? How many people gleefully sipped their reward for a thoughtless riff on "Roses are red / Violets are blue" that brought them no closer to the form of artistic expression that UNESCO deems important enough to all of humanity to merit its own special day? How many serious poets were willing to trade their pensive observations on the human condition for the sake of not having to count out change while a barista feigns patience? Will all those handwritten cards end up in a smug promotional clip on YouTube? And what determines the true value of a poem?
Perhaps we should try to liven up our evenings with limericks after all. Or, better yet, go with UNESCO's first tip: "Support poetry by buying the collections of young poets." (You could start here.)