In 1994, frustrated that such a thing didn’t already exist, philanthropist and poetry lover William Sieghart founded National Poetry Day and started campaigning for institutions, broadcasters and like-minded people to celebrate it every October.
Last Thursday, on the festival’s 21st birthday, Radio 4 welcomed it into full adulthood with We British, which aimed to explore the last 1,400 years of British history, culture and experience through the words of both great and lesser-known poets.
The programming – which took up nearly six hours of airtime, and had replaced much of the daytime schedule – began after Today. I approached it warily, dogged by the memory of the network’s last grand literary folly: a lumpen, 10-hour-long dramatisation of War and Peace, broadcast in its entirety on New Year’s Day. It did not seem inconceivable that this would be a clunker of similar proportions; the kind of high-minded project that gets Radio 4’s senior management excited but that ultimately dies on their airwaves.