Culture and Education

Explore the UN’s Awesome Poetry Scene: Get Ready for a Dive into Vibrant Traditions!

UN rumour has it that the unofficial tradition began almost 40 years ago, when a delegate from the United Kingdom requested the floor to make a point of order at the end of an intense months-long session.

The now annual tradition is flush with ribald diplomatic jocularity and acerbic wit.

Watch the UK’s “poem lecture” from 2013, recited at the committee’s final meeting of the 68th General Assembly session, here.

Dubbed the “poem lecture”, somewhat of a competition has emerged since then. 

After negotiating draft resolutions and discussing the world’s pressing humanitarian concerns, human rights violations and such critical topics as education for all and preserving cultural heritage from threats, the committee’s delegates welcome a type of conference room poetry slam.

Touching upon James Bond, LGBTI and martinis, the UK delegate’s poem lecture in 2021 garnered chuckles across the General Assembly Hall:

“As we approach the end of this session,

we are left with one thing: a very clear lesson

Mr. Bond, so you see, is expected to die,

but never quite does, and do you know why?

Because while negotiations may feel like a Casino Royale

while text and ideas can rapidly spoil,

despite this, like Bond, to a cause we are loyal

The Universal Declaration; it’s for that that we toil

So rather than live and let die, let’s live and let live, or let’s at least try.”

Over the years, Egypt joined in the annual tradition along with Syria and even Third Committee Chair Jóse Alfonso Blanco, from the Dominican Republic, took the floor in 2022 to recite a verse.

Watch Egypt’s representative deliver her own poem in 2023 below.

For more epic moments across the UN’s past, visit UN Video’s Stories from the UN Archive playlist here, cultivated from the UN Audiovisual Library’s 49,400 hours of video and 18,000 hours of audio recordings, and read our accompanying series here. Join us next Thursday for another dive into history.

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13 Comments

  1. Did the tradition of the “poem lecture” have any impact on the serious discussions held during the annual session at the UN?

    1. Yes, the tradition of the “poem lecture” serves as a refreshing break from the serious discussions, injecting humor and light-heartedness into the intense sessions. It allows delegates to express creativity and camaraderie before delving back into the critical global issues at hand.

  2. What an intriguing UN tradition! It’s fascinating to see how poetry intertwines with diplomacy in such a unique way. The UK delegate’s poem lecture in 2021 was not only clever but also served as a poignant reflection on the importance of unity and dedication to global causes. Looking forward to more poetic insights from different delegates in the future!

  3. Is the poem lecture competition still a significant part of the UN’s General Assembly sessions, or has it evolved in recent years? I’d love to learn more about this vibrant tradition!

    1. EmilySmith21, the “poem lecture” competition has indeed evolved over the years into a significant part of the UN’s General Assembly sessions. It continues to bring a touch of humor and creativity to the intense diplomatic environment, allowing delegates to express their views in a unique and engaging manner. The tradition has expanded to include various topics and styles, reflecting the diverse perspectives within the international community. It’s a vibrant tradition that adds a refreshing twist to the serious discussions at the UN. Feel free to dive deeper into this fascinating world of diplomatic poetry!

  4. Who decides the theme or prompts for the poems presented during the UN’s poetry sessions?

    1. The themes or prompts for the poems presented during the UN’s poetry sessions are typically decided through a collective agreement among the participating delegates and officials. It is a collaborative effort reflecting the diverse perspectives and issues discussed within the United Nations, ensuring a rich tapestry of poetic expression that resonates with the global community.

  5. As a poetry enthusiast, I find the UN’s “poem lecture” tradition fascinating. It’s refreshing to see delegates expressing themselves through poetry after intense sessions, adding a touch of creativity to diplomacy.

  6. Wow, the UN’s poetry scene sounds fascinating! It’s amazing how they blend humor and diplomacy in such a creative way. I never knew about this tradition, but I’m excited to explore more about it now. Thanks for sharing!

  7. UN’s poetry scene is such a refreshing break from the intense diplomatic discussions. It’s great to see delegates showcase their creativity in such a unique way. The poem lecture tradition adds a touch of humor and lightness to the serious matters being addressed. Looking forward to more poetic insights from different countries in the future!

  8. Is this tradition still ongoing? I would love to know if there are new participants or any changes in the format.

    1. Yes, the tradition is alive and well! New participants bring fresh perspectives into the poetic jamboree, enriching the vibrant tradition with diverse narratives and voices. The format continues to evolve, weaving contemporary themes into the timeless art of diplomacy through verse.

  9. It’s fascinating to see how the UN’s poetry scene has evolved over the years, bringing a touch of creativity and humor to the diplomatic discussions. The “poem lecture” tradition adds a unique dimension to the serious topics addressed at the General Assembly, showcasing the delegates’ lighter side and creativity. Looking forward to more poetic insights in the future sessions!

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