Yesterday, I met one of my neighbours on my street walking his dog. “Didn’t I see you on the telly?” he said. “Yes,” I admitted, a bit sheepishly, “that would have been when we launched our survey” – and I explained briefly what it's all about. “Oh, that’s really cool!” he said. And he meant it.
That was a fairly typical reaction. There’s something about this project that seems to have immediate connection for many people. But I'm still being constantly surprised.
When I met the dog-walking neighbour, I was in fact on my way out to a College dinner where I’d arranged to meet a friend. As we sat down at the table, she leaned across and whispered excitedly, “You know, you are surrounded by people who know poetry!" You see that tall man on the next table. He can recite some Hamlet. And the girl next to him – she knows Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116. And the man next to her …
It turned out that last Thursday she’d heard the piece about National Poetry Day on Radio Four's Today programme (though not really aware that it was our project) and made it her mission that day to find out what poems people in the college knew. During the course of the evening, I met several of them who gamely recited one or two lines.
I found this an intriguing idea: the notion we were at that moment surrounded by little pieces of poetry, living inside people. Like underground springs, they’re invisible, but bubbling beneath the surface and potentially life-giving.
You might imagine my enterprising friend was an English scholar, but she’s actually an architect. But then, as Goethe said, architecture is frozen music.