Skip to main content

A deluge in London, but this time it's raining poems

By Neil Curry, CNN
updated 11:50 AM EDT, Thu June 28, 2012
  • Helicopter hovers over central London, scattering 100,000 poems on to delighted crowds
  • One poet included from each country participating in Olympic Games
  • "Rain of Poems" marks beginning of what is being described as biggest gathering of poets

London (CNN) -- It's midsummer in London and it's raining. For once, however, everyone seems very pleased about the matter. Londoners are used to summer showers but they'd never seen anything like this as a helicopter hovered over the London Eye, scattering 100,000 poems on to the delighted crowds below.

The "Rain of Poems" is the idea of a Chilean arts collective called Casagrande and follows similar stunts in cities that have suffered from aerial bombardment during wartime from Berlin to Santiago, Gernica to Dubrovnik.

Casagrande's Cristoball Brianchi says the forthcoming Olympic Games made London the perfect target.

"This time we have included one poet from each of the countries participating in the Olympic Games so when you see all of these poems in the sky what you are seeing is the story, the literature of all these different places."

But logistics threaten to replace lyricism among Cristobal's list of priorities.

I wandered lonely as a cloud that floats on high o'er dale and hill

And all at once I saw a crowd: the sight with joy my heart did fill.

A thousand merry revellers, who ran and jumped with gleeful heart

To pluck a poem from the air...but hang on how did all this start?

We stood beneath the London Eye and craned our necks up to the sky

A helicopter hovered there above the crowd's collective stare

The aircraft then disgorged its load, on grass and garden, street and road

And presently the sky was dark, with poems raining on the park.

Casagrande was the name of those who planned this artful game

Benign bombardment - words not war -- carried from a distant shore

Poetry from every land -- Olympic nations hand-in-hand

Devoid of sweat or strength or speed, fulfilling an artistic need.

We stopped and read the verse we found, swapped and shared and passed them round.

From Chile, Jordan, Palestine, the words devoured line by line

Ethiopia, North Korea, tales of friendship, flight and fear

I felt inspired to be a poet -- but this is rubbish and I know it!

"I have become a weather specialist. I have to calculate wind direction, the wind speed as well as the rules of civil aviation."

In the event, Cristobal's command of wind speed proves inadequate and the first batch of poems is carried away from the crowd, sending people scurrying through side streets in pursuit of poetry. Eventually, the chopper moves to a more suitable position from which the delightful deluge can hit its mark. Soon Jubilee Gardens are full of laughter as poem-baggers run to and fro, leaping in the air and diving on the grass to snare their quarry. If £50 notes had replaced the bookmark-sized poems there could barely have been a happier response.

The "Rain of Poems" marks the beginning of what is being described as the biggest ever gathering of international poets. The event is called "Poetry Parnassus" -- named after Mount Parnassus, known in Greek mythology as the spiritual home of poetry, the stamping ground of the lyricist Orpheus and the hang-out for the Muses.

The event has attracted poets of all ages, continents and literary stature -- from Nobel Laureates Seamus Heaney (Ireland) and Wole Soyinka (Nigeria) to Poet Laureates Kay Ryan (U.S.) to Bill Manhire (New Zealand).

Many arrived in London with incredible stories to tell. Jang Jin Seong was court poet to North Korea's Kim Jong-il. When his disillusionment with the regime became too much to bear he fled across the Tumen River carrying seventy of his poems. He now lives in South Korea separated from his family but free to express his thoughts about his native country.

Poetry Parnassus is part of the South Bank Centre's "Festival of the World," in turn part of the Cultural Olympiad, designed to spread the Olympic fervor beyond sport to the arts. Londoners at the "Rain of Poems" embraced this idea.

"It's very important because not everyone has tickets for the Olympics so events like this mean everyone can take part."

"A lot of the things that are in the Cultural Olympics are free and you don't have to pay an extortionate amount to go and see a celebration when you've got a thousand people here having fun and all it is is poems falling from the sky, which is something that doesn't happen every day."

A beaming among the crowds turned out to be Christian Leon -- Cultural Attache at London's Chilean Embassy, who was proud that his countrymen had staged the Rain of Poems.

"You feel like a little child running to catch one of those lovely poems and as you know Chile is the country of poets with two Nobel Prizes in Literature -- both of them poets. It's the best thing we can bring to this country in order to celebrate the Olympics."

As the deluge of verse continued, people on the ground began to get in touch with their own inner poet. The area was soon awash with whimsical people reading aloud to each other.

A team of cleaners was on hand to gather up any mess -- in the event most of the poems were gathered up and taken home by those who found them -- and any poems which fell in the nearby River Thames were designed to dissolve, leaving no trace of poetry on the ground. But it was clear that poetry had left its mark on many who witnessed the curious event. People like Attache Leon, who told us: "Poetry is life. Poetry is happiness. Poetry is absolutely everything!"

Part of complete coverage on
updated 10:26 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Advocates say the exam includes unnecessarily invasive and irrelevant procedures -- like a so-called "two finger" test.
updated 7:09 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Supplies of food, clothing and fuel are running short in Damascus and people are going hungry as the civil war drags on.
updated 1:01 PM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
Supporters of Richard III want a reconstruction of his head to bring a human aspect to a leader portrayed as a murderous villain.
updated 10:48 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Robert Fowler spent 130 days held hostage by the same al Qaeda group that was behind the Algeria massacre. He shares his experience.
updated 12:07 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
As "We are the World" plays, a video shows what looks like a nuclear attack on the U.S. Jim Clancy reports on a bizarre video from North Korea.
The relationship is, once again, cold enough to make Obama's much-trumpeted "reset" in Russian-U.S. relations seem thoroughly off the rails.
Ten years on, what do you think the Iraq war has changed in you, and in your country? Send us your thoughts and experiences.
updated 7:15 AM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Musician Daniela Mercury has sold more than 12 million albums worldwide over a career span of nearly 30 years.
Photojournalist Alison Wright travelled the world to capture its many faces in her latest book, "Face to Face: Portraits of the Human Spirit."
updated 7:06 PM EST, Tue February 5, 2013
Europol claims 380 soccer matches, including top level ones, were fixed - as the scandal widens, CNN's Dan Rivers looks at how it's done.
updated 7:37 AM EST, Wed February 6, 2013
That galaxy far, far away is apparently bigger than first thought. The "Star Wars" franchise will get two spinoff movies, Disney announced.
updated 7:27 PM EDT, Fri July 25, 2014
It's an essential part of any trip, an activity we all take part in. Yet almost none of us are any good at it. Souvenir buying is too often an obligatory slog.