Balloon debate: what's the best poem ever?

Saturday 18 October, 17.30 until 18.45, Hammerson Room, Barbican Contemporary Controversies

To see a World in a Grain of Sand/And a Heaven in a Wild Flower/Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand/And Eternity in an hour (Auguries of Innocence)

William Blake certainly thought that a poem’s quality shouldn’t be determined on its length. Yet attempting to decide what should be judged as the greatest poem ever provokes some sharp questions over how we measure greatness. Can a Shakepearean sonnet really claim to be greater than the ethereal epic majesty of Paradise Lost? Can a translator ever really hope to capture the beauty behind the vast linguistic challenges posed to a non-fluent speaker by a Dante, Li Po or Tagore? Does it even need to rhyme? Is poetry’s greatness that it speaks for the ages, or that it gives voice to those flowers otherwise ‘born to blush unseen’? Join a select panel for another Battle of Ideas Balloon Debate as they make a pitch for what is the best poem ever.

Listen to the debate:


Lindsay Johns
writer and broadcaster; (non-residential) Fellow at the Hutchins Center for African & African-American Research at Harvard University

Kate Maltby
theatre critic, The Times; associate fellow, Bright Blue; researcher on intellectual life of Elizabeth I

Shyama Perera
writer, broadcaster and novelist; acting director, One World Media

Pedro Quintino de Sousa
researcher on Portuguese and European literature, CLEPUL (Center For European and Lusophone Literatures and Cultures)

Richard Stubbs
educational consultant; former teacher; advocate, Greenwich Advocacy

Bernie Whelan
reviewer, Extra! Extra!; member, Academy of Ideas Arts and Society Forum

David Bowden
associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; culture writer

Produced by
David Bowden associate fellow, Academy of Ideas; culture writer

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