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Stories From The UN Archive: Poetic Traditions At The UN

On World Poetry Day, marked on 21 March, and #ThrowbackThursday, we looked at some poetry in motion in the General Assembly’s Third Committee on social, humanitarian and cultural affairs.

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:

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“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.

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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