More than 800 volunteers busy creating the letters for woollen verse to be unveiled in October to mark Poetry Society centenary
- guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 18 August 2009 15.14 BST
When the former national poet of Wales Gwyneth Lewis wrote How to Knit a Poem, she probably wasn't expecting that two years later, knitters around the world would be taking her at her word.
But more than 800 knitting enthusiasts are currently involved in knitting and crocheting individual letters to create the world's first giant knitted poem as part of the centenary celebrations for the Poetry Society, with the as-yet secret poem set to be unveiled at the beginning of October. Poetry Society director Judith Palmer said she had been inundated by knitters keen to get involved. "It hasn't been a matter of trying to persuade people to join in – we're just trying to manage the huge number who are calling up all the time," she said. "It's just spread and spread: there must be 90 knitting blogs writing about it around the world."
The level of interest in the project meant, she said, that she had considered doing a longer poem – The Prelude, or Paradise Lost – but she has so far stuck to her original choice, a mystery to all but a few people at the moment but likely to become less of a secret when the letters start to be sewn into words in September. "People are guessing all the time," said Palmer, a keen knitter herself. "They guess Yeats's He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven most often, and it is one I thought about doing." Her choice, though, is "not an obvious one", although she did admit that the poem had "a significance in the history of the Poetry Society".
With letters – average size 12 inches square, although "W" takes up more room than "I" – flooding in to the Poetry Society's post room daily, the finished product is likely to take up a fair bit of space. Knitters are sending in their own favourite poems on the back of each letter, with choices ranging from Auden to Eliot, and Verlaine to Betjeman, and Palmer is also planning to create an anthology of these once the project is done.
"A poem is often a small thing that packs a larger punch than its scale suggests – it's not big and shouty. The idea of a poem with scale is interesting – it's saying look how big, how important this poem is, and how many people's lives it's reached," Palmer said.
Knitting and poetry are more similar than they might first appear, she added, with poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy partial to an occasional knit, and the Society's president Jo Shapcott, Seamus Heaney and Emily Dickinson all authors of poems featuring knitting. "With poetry and with knitting, you work line by line, and if something goes wrong you have to unravel it," Palmer said.