Rugby needs poetry like a fish needs a bicycle, you might think.

But two of the driving forces behind National Poetry Day have laid down a challenge to the All Blacks: take a poet on tour with you.

Phantom Billstickers National Poetry Day turns 20 on Friday, August 25, and it's the biggest ever with more than 100 events, workshops and competitions around the country. Award-winning novelist Paula Morris and Phantom Billstickers' Jamey Holloway say an official All Blacks poet could continue poetry's momentum and promote another side of our culture at home and away.

Holloway points to the recent Tutira Mai campaign, where fans of our national rugby squad were urged to support the team by singing and chanting Tutira Mai Nga Iwi lyrics at test matches against the British Lions. The official New Zealand Rugby video featured sportspeople Joseph Parker, Valerie Adams and former All Black-turned-police officer Glen Osborne playing the tune on his guitar.

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For Holloway and Morris, poetry isn't a million miles from the live music scene. Morris says the lines have been blurred by events like Bob Dylan winning the Noble Prize for Literature.

"Lots of people do talk about this as being a really great time for poetry in New Zealand and one reason is that there are a lot of new young voices coming out that really reflect New Zealand as it is now," she says. "You see a lot more diversity; a huge amount of diversity - you see younger people writing and publishing books and younger people appearing on stage and you see Asian writers and Pasifika writers and Maori writers. Poetry is where they are often first emerging."

Street poster company Phantom Billstickers has been putting poems on posters since 2005. Holloway says it's a way to reward those who pay attentions to its many sites around the country. "It shows something of the cultural life that's going on. We put up poem posters, with New Zealand poets, all round the world," he says.

He became interested in poetry when he read the work of British World War I soldier Wilfred Owen, still taught in schools. Morris says work Owen's poetry can speak to people in a way that history books don't.

"He was a young man, a very young man, who was killed in the war; his poetry is that of a young man speaking and telling the truth about what it's like to be gassed, what it's like to be in the trenches," she says. "It's really visceral. Poetry has that potential to report from the frontlines, whatever they are. They might be emotional frontlines and they might not be battlefields, but when you read something that has a resonance for you, it can spark something in you."

Novelist Paula Morris says an official All Blacks poet could promote a different side of New Zealand at home and away.
Novelist Paula Morris says an official All Blacks poet could promote a different side of New Zealand at home and away.

Morris says there are many ways to start exploring poetry. She points to the launch, on National Poetry Day, of the inaugural online poetry collection 20/20. It features 20 poems by well-known poets who also chose a poem by their favourite emerging poet, bringing to 40 the number of poems in the collection.

Established poet Apirana Taylor chose Kiri Piahana-Wong's Hine Rangi.
Piahana-Wong says she is thrilled to be included and considers Taylor a mentor.

"It's great having someone who can be encouraging about your work," she says. "He'll give me honest feedback and says things like, 'that's a great line; I wish I'd written that!' The best thing to do if you want to write poetry is to write every day and to read widely, go to events and meet people who can give you feedback."

Piahana-Wong is doing her bit to encourage budding poets, working as a publisher at boutique publisher Anahera Press and, at one time, emceeing Poetry Live, NZ's longest-running live poetry event, which started 36 years ago.

"There's been an explosion of events in Auckland, where there's a really vibrant poetry scene," she says. "You can go to poetry every night of the week now if you want to."

The chance to express ourselves might be one reason why more people are writing and reading poetry, but Morris and Holloway say reflecting on a poem offers the chance for much-needed moments of contemplation.

"It's that moment when you interact with something; when someone else's imagination meets your imagination and the words take route so there's sort of a glimpse of something brighter and more complex and more interesting than just an ad for a show or something you have to buy," says Morris. "No one's asking you to buy something; they're just asking you to read it and engage with it and see where it takes you ...

"We need things that are culturally enriching, intellectually enriching and imaginatively enriching. Everybody needs that; it's just like we need to see beautiful flowers, hear birds in the trees and the waves lapping against the beach. Some people would call it a spiritual need; it's not enough just to go to work and play video games and look at your computer screen."

Lowdown
National Poetry Day, August 25. See nzbookawards.nz/national-poetry-day/20-20-collection for poems in the 20/20 collection and nzbookawards.nz/national-poetry-day/calendar-of-events/ for all events.