Statement
21 March 2019 - 3:49pm

Message from Ms Audrey Azoulay,
Director-General of UNESCO
on the occasion of the World Poetry Day
21 March 2019

take the moon
and take a star
when you don’t
know who you are
paint the picture in your hand
and roll on home
[…]
take the moon
and make it talk
take your soul out
make it walk
paint the picture in your hand
and roll on home
From “Howlin at the Moon” by Wayne Keon

Poetry, in all its forms, is a powerful tool for dialogue and rapprochement. An intimate expression that opens doors to others, it enriches the dialogue that catalyzes all human progress and weaves cultures together.

Today, on the 20th anniversary of World Poetry Day, UNESCO is putting the spotlight on indigenous poetry, to celebrate the unique and powerful role of poetry in standing against marginalization and injustice, and in uniting cultures in the spirit of solidarity.

Howlin at the Moon” by Wayne Keon (a member of Nipissing First Nation, Canada) is a commentary on the misappropriation of indigenous culture by other dominant cultures. It speaks of the loss of native identity due to its reinterpretation by outsiders, no matter how well-intentioned, and of the author’s own confusion about his identity as a result.

Poetry is important for the safeguarding of often-endangered languages, as well as the maintenance of linguistic and cultural diversity. 2019 marks the International Year of Indigenous Languages, led by UNESCO, to reaffirm the commitment of the international community in supporting indigenous peoples to preserve their cultures, knowledge and rights.

This designation comes at a time when indigenous people and their languages and cultures are increasingly under threat, in particular from climate change and industrial development.

As part of our efforts to safeguard living traditions, UNESCO has included a number of poetic forms on the Representative List of the Intangible Heritage of Humanity, such as the Hudhud chants of the Philippines, the Mapoyo oral tradition of Venezuela, the Eshuva, Harákmbut sung prayers of Peru, and the Koogere oral tradition Uganda.

Every form of poetry is unique, but each reflects the universal of the 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. That’s the power of poetry!

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