Voices of Poetry has been going for many years: a unique event, it provides a punctuation point at a particular part of the school year: Sixth Form have finished classes, the Sports Day is over, and ahead are the St Columba’s Day weekend, the public exams, the excitement of trips week, and finally the school exams. For 45 minutes we pause in the middle of all this activity and listen in the BSR to voices in different languages, both pupils and staff speaking in a darkened hushed auditorium lit by a single spotlight. The event celebrates the great diversity of the College population, and, appropriately, this year it was Pentecost, with its associations with speaking in many tongues.
On Sunday evening, a group of three foreign languages started us off, linked tenuously by their first letter. Chinese (Mandarin) was spoken musically by Coco Xu, and she was followed by Czech – Phoebe Landseer, with a piece by 1984 Nobel winner Jaroslav Seifert – and Catalan (Tomas Rosa Echevarria). The rhythm of the evening was that then we reverted to English for three poems: Mr Kirwan was at the event for the first time, reading Thomas Hardy, followed by two Second Formers: Lexi Hunter with ‘Prayer’ by Carol Ann Duffy and Elizabeth Coffey with ‘The Great Blasket Island’ by Julie O’Callaghan, which you can hear the poet herself read here.
Romance languages formed the next cluster: French from Hugo Laurenceau and Ebah Assebian, Spanish from Eugenia Garcia and Olivia Valderrama, and Italian from Anna Luisa Sanminiatelli. Back to English: Mr Swift read the ever-excellent and amusing Billy Collins’s ‘Another Reason Why I Don’t Keep a Gun in the House’, followed by two more Second Formers, with both Jack-Francis McKeon (‘Earth Summit’ by Oliver Tearle) and James Breatnach (the famous ‘Lake Isle of Innisfree by W.B. Yeats) reading confidently.
An extremely eclectic group came next: Yoruba from Bibiire Oke-Osanyintolu, Irish from Naoise Murray, Ancient Greek from Edvard Zujest and Arabic from Anna-Cecilia Corti. You could hardly find languages with less in common, but all of them marked by a very different and beautiful music.
A First Former and the Warden followed: Harry Casey read his own work ‘Farewell’ and then the Warden recited one of the poems he learned years ago, Walter de la Mare’s dramatic and evocative ‘The Travellers’.
The final foreign-language group was from countries close to each other: German (Hannah Bergmann), Danish (Melina Paulsen), Ukrainian (Anhelina Khliebnykova) and Polish (Aleksander Kierski). The last of these was ‘Clouds’ by the 1996 Nobel Laureate, Wisława Szymborska, and Mr Girdham read out the English translation first.
The evening came to a close with Nikolai Foster representing Sixth Form and leavers with Berton Braley’s ‘The Will to Win’, some advice for those whose time at the school is not yet coming to an end. Then Mr McCarthy, whose time is, recited Langston Hughes’s ‘Life is Fine’.
We ended with Junior Poetry Prize winner Giacomo Borillo’s touching ‘The Beautiful Beach’, thinking of his grandfather who died a year ago. That reflective note was the right one on which to end, a recognition of how poetry can console us and express what truly matters to us.