The first Poetry Days were celebrated on 11 September 1965 at Communard Park (now known as the Esplanade) in honour of the 100th anniversary of the birth of Latvian poet Jānis Rainis. The Rainis Monument was unveiled as part of this celebration.

Ojārs Vācietis reads poetry by the Rainis Monument. Photo: J. Kārkls.
Ojārs Vācietis reads poetry by the Rainis Monument. Photo: J. Kārkls.

On March 30 of the following year, the Latvian Writers’ Union decided to organise a Poetry Days event every year, and so this tradition was born.

Poetry Days events occur not only in Rīga, but across all of Latvia. This celebration typically lasts about 21 days and includes poetry readings as well as opportunities to meet the poets themselves. Since 1996, the Poetry Days Award has been presented to the best poetry collection published during the preceding year.

The Rainis Centenary provided an impetus for organising a variety of different cultural events, which included not only recognising Rainis’s contributions to literature and culture, but also the creation of new traditions like the Poetry Days celebration. As the poetry reading at the unveiling of the Rainis Monument had been such a success, then, most likely, this was also the motivation for celebrating the anniversary of Rainis’s birth this way every year, thereby also popularising and supporting poetry writing in the present day.

On 24 March 1966, the Secretariat of the Latvian Writers’ Union decided to make the Poetry Days celebration an annual event. Beginning in Autumn 1966, the Poetry Days would be celebrated every year on September 11 coinciding with the anniversary of Rainis’s birth. By 11 September 1967, the Secretariat had decided to publish the Poetry Almanac, which would feature the best original and translated poems as well as discussions of poetry, memories of poets and writers, and literary heritage. The print-run for the almanac was 24,000 copies.