Poetry Archive

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The Poetry Archive
Type Charitable trust
Purpose Modern poetry in English read by the author
Official language
Andrew Motion and Richard Carrington
Daniel Day-Lewis (current) Seamus Heaney (2005-2013)
Billy Collins and Melvyn Bragg
Main organ
Board of trustees
Website Poetry Archive

The Poetry Archive is a free, web-based library formed to hold recordings of English language poets reading their own work. It was founded by recording producer Richard Carrington and poet Andrew Motion, during his appointment as UK Poet Laureate in 1999.[1][2] Recordings of contemporary work began in 2000 and the site went live in 2005. The Poetry Archive is a not-for-profit registered UK charity.[3]

Formation and development[edit]

The archive was established as a web-based library to ensure that the oral record of modern poets is not lost, as it has been with writers such as Thomas Hardy, D. H. Lawrence and A. E. Housman whose voices were never recorded, despite the technology being available at the time.[3] The resource is built on the idea that poets have a unique relationship with their own work and are often able to communicate the nuance, musicality and subtlety of it, with a deeper understanding than actors.[3] Texts to the poems and other resources are available but the poet's voice is the main concern of the site.[4] Motion has stated "To hear the speed at which a poet reads, to hear their accent, to hear how they inflect their voice, to hear how they create a space around their words - or don't - all add to our using of what the meaning of poem might be."[1] Contemporary studio recordings for the project began in 2000, shortly after Motion was appointed a Poet Laureate, and the site went live in 2005.[5] Most of the recordings are created especially for the organisation, however some historic readings are archived. Poets are chosen by a selection panel, chaired by Andrew Motion and works added to the site every month. CDs of archive works are available. Launched in 2014, there is also a download store which allows people to purchase and download audio poetry directly from the website.[3]

In the first year, the site had 500,000 visitors, building to over 1.5 million annual users in 2008, nearly 2 million in 2009 and over 3 million in 2012.[6][7][8] The archive forms part of the permanent legacy of Motion's time as Poet Laureate. He states that he would never have been able to raise the £2000000 needed to launch the library without his position.[7][8][9] The project was initially funded by the National Lottery, government grants and private donors in conjunction with work by Jean Sprackland.[10]

The current president is Sir Daniel Day-Lewis. The previous president was the late poet Seamus Heaney and the project is supported by patrons Billy Collins and Melvyn Bragg.[3]


As of September 2015, the readings of over 400 poets are available on the site, with content searchable by title, author, theme, and form. Historic recordings available on the archive include Alfred Tennyson (recorded by Thomas Edison 1890), Robert Browning (1889), Rudyard Kipling (1921) W. B. Yeats (1932) and Langston Hughes (1955).[11] Contemporary writers include Seamus Heaney, Billy Collins, Carol Ann Duffy and John Ashbery.[1][11][12][13]

The work of New Zealand Allen Curnow was recorded shortly before his death in 2001, one of the first to be archived. Cornish poet Charles Causley gave a reading aged 86, in the year before he died in 2003.[5] Motion commented:

It's a fantastically powerful recording that was done a matter of days before his death. It doesn't show on the recording, but Richard, who made the recording, said that between each poem Charles broke down and wept, and had to gather himself. He knew that he was dying. He was saying goodbye to each of his poems. If you only listen to one of the poems on the website, listen to "Eden Rock". It's a great poem and he reads it so beautifully and introduces it so touchingly.[14][15]

In 2006 historic readings by Dylan Thomas, Ted Hughes and Walter de la Mare, were added.[16] That same year, the project worked with the BBC to archive rare readings by Siegfried Sassoon, Robert Graves and Philip Larkin.[6] In 2008 over 60 American recordings were archived on the site, in collaboration with the Poetry Foundation, based in Chicago. Readers include Ted Kooser, Robert Pinsky, and Philip Levine. [1] The main archive site also includes children's poetry, with a separate website being developed www.childrenspoetryarchive.org dedicated solely to presenting children's poetry, with work by poets such as Roald Dahl, Spike Milligan and Michael Rosen.[17][18]

The website also now features collections of classic poetry being read by contemporary poets and some famous voices, including Helen Mirren, Stephen Fry, Judi Dench and Allen Rickman.[19]

The archive also includes extensive material for teachers and students, including glossaries, biographies and lesson plans that integrated as a school resource.[7][20][21]

In 2012, independent activist Phantom Bill Stickers pasted poems up in public spaces in New Zealand cities, featuring bar codes that could be scanned by smart phones. The code linked to the writers reading their poem on the Poetry Archive.[22]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "US voices added to poetry archive". BBC News. 16 September 2008. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  2. ^ "Motion cheers online poem archive". BBC News. 14 December 2005. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d e "About us". Poetry Archive. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  4. ^ Sprackland, Jean. ""The Poetry Archive"". NATE Classroom. NATE (National Association for the Teaching of English). 4 (Spring 2008). 
  5. ^ a b "Classic poets' voices go online". BBC News. 30 November 2005. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  6. ^ a b "Poetry Archive unveils lost voices". Guardian. 30 November 2006. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  7. ^ a b c "Yet once more, O ye laurels". Guardian. 21 March 2009. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  8. ^ a b "Andrew Motion: a life in writing". Guardian. 5 October 2012. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  9. ^ "A Laureate's Legacy - The Poetry Archive". BBC Radio 4. 25 Dec 2009. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  10. ^ "Poetry Archive puts recordings online". Telecomworldwire. 30 November 2005. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  11. ^ a b "Poets". Poetry Archive. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  12. ^ "John Ashbery". Poetry Archive. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  13. ^ "Carol Ann Duffy". Poetry Archive. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  14. ^ "Well versed in web power". The Scotsman. 16 March 2006. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  15. ^ "Charles Causley". Poetry Archive. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  16. ^ "Poem archive adds historic voices". BBC News. 30 November 2006. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  17. ^ "Children's archive". Poetry Archive. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  18. ^ "Poetry Archive". Academy of American Poets. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 
  19. ^ "Classic Poems". The Poetry Archive. 10 November 2014. Retrieved 11 September 2015. 
  20. ^ Blake, Julie (February 2009). "Using the Poetry Archive in the English Classroom". English Drama Media (13). 
  21. ^ Lockney, Karen (Fall 2012). "The Poetry Archive in the Classroom". NATE Classroom. NATE (18). 
  22. ^ "Sharing the deep emotion". New Zealand Herald. 8 September 2012. Retrieved 9 April 2013. 

External links[edit]