A 10 Year Anniversary Special from The Poetry Archive...
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February 2016 Newsletter

10 Year Special Edition

A Celebration of 10 years


The Poetry Archive was officially launched as a not-for-profit organisation on November 30th 2005 at an event at the British Library in London.

Throughout 2016 we will be celebrating the completion of the first ten years of the Archive, starting in this newsletter with a look back at how it all began, what we have achieved in ten years and what we hope to achieve in the next ten years. In future months, we will bring you behind-the-scenes insights into the way the Poetry Archive works; we’ll have some ‘In Memoriam’ Specials, dedicated to poets who have died in the last ten years and whose voices live on in the Archive; and we’ll also share with you some of our favourite stories from the last decade.

From Tiny Seeds...

How It All Began

As you may already know, the idea of the Archive began when Sir Andrew Motion (UK Poet Laureate 1999 – 2009) and the recording producer Richard Carrington met in a recording studio in 1999. They talked about how fascinating it is to hear a poet reading his or her work and how deeply regrettable it is that, even in the 20th century, key poets – Thomas Hardy, A. E. Housman, D. H. Lawrence – weren’t ever recorded: amazing as it seems to us now, no-one thought of doing so. The Poetry Archive is a charity that seeks to ensure that, in future, all key English-language poets are properly recorded for posterity and, crucially, that their recordings are freely available to the widest audience.

Growing and Growing Up

Since the formation of that initial idea, The Poetry Archive has grown and grown. Over the last ten years we have recorded readings by more than 350 poets. We have formed relationships with the Poetry Foundation in the USA, River Road Press in Australia, the Aotearoa Archive in New Zealand, Badilisha Poetry X-Change in South Africa, and the University of the West Indies, allowing the Archive to feature increasing numbers of recordings of poets around the English-speaking world. Every week now, somewhere in the world, a poet goes into a studio to record a reading for the Archive.

In With The Old

Additionally, we have been granted permission to feature many important historic recordings by such poets as Alfred Tennyson (recorded in 1890), T. S. Eliot, Siegfried Sassoon and Allen Ginsberg. As the Archive has grown in significance, it has also been important for us to record the work of poets who wrote before the age of recording: our Classic Poets section features today's poets introducing and reading the work of their admired forebears.

Time Flies...

Ten years on, Richard Carrington, Co-Founder/Director of the Archive, recalls some of the biggest changes and achievements throughout that time.

"How technology has moved on! In the early days, we were still editing recordings on ¼–inch magnetic tape with a razor blade. Now, the slightest extraneous detail can be edited out by our expert recording editor, Chris Panton, so that nothing gets in the way of your enjoying each of our recordings. In the early days, I used sometimes to make recordings in poets’ homes: especially if a poet was elderly and didn’t want to travel, a home visit sometimes promised to make the process much simpler for him or her. The downside, however, was that a comfortable armchair in the poet’s sitting room wasn’t always guaranteed to be protected from background sounds which would always find a way to interrupt the recording – aircraft overhead, passing traffic, a ringing telephone, the builders working four doors down the road, the poet’s cat purring on the poet’s lap. I quickly learnt that a home recording usually takes twice as long as a studio recording – and that it can leave the poor poets even more exhausted than they’d have been after a trip to the studio.

It is interesting to look back at our original website and see how much the overall design of the site has developed and improved since those days. We’re always looking for ways to improve your experience of the Archive and will continue – funding permitting (a phrase I probably moan in my sleep) – to refine the way the site delivers its recordings to you.

Of course, remembering our launch at the British Library at the end of the last century brings back memories of our first Honorary President, the great Irish poet Seamus Heaney. As well as making a magnificent recording for the Archive himself, Seamus was a constant source of warm support and encouragement right up to his death in 2013. He is still greatly missed by us all. Now, of course, we are thrilled to have a new President, the great actor, Daniel Day-Lewis, who is already proving to be another incomparable friend to the Archive. Daniel has said that he would like to record some poems for us, including work by his late father, C. Day Lewis, who was UK Poet Laureate from 1968 until his death in 1972. We look forward very much to bringing Daniel’s readings to you in due course.

From the start, there have been two words that Andrew Motion and I have often used to describe the Poetry Archive. Those words are “serious” and “fun”. We’re continuing to have serious fun building the Archive still further and we very much hope that you’ll continue to have serious fun exploring it.”

Archiving Without Borders

A Global Presence

Sir Andrew Motion moved to the United States in July 2015 to become a Homewood Professor of the Arts at John Hopkins University in Baltimore but he has in no way taken a step back from the Archive. Andrew is still closely involved every day in the discussions and decisions that take place by email, by Skype and on the phone, and he returns to the UK regularly. Although the time will probably come when the Archive needs to be based in a physical office, it is still, for now, a virtual organisation so where anyone lives has very little impact on their ability to contribute to our work. 

Andrew says of the first ten years of the Poetry Archive:

"When Richard Carrington and I first made plans for the Poetry Archive, before the launch ten years ago, we hoped and believed that it would do something to help make poetry of the past and present more widely accessible. But to be honest we had only a vague idea of what that ’something' might be: the internet, after all, was still in its infancy, and its phenomenal reach and impact had yet to be established. So it’s fair to say that the success of the Archive, in terms of its visitor numbers, took us somewhat by surprise in the early days - though of course we we were very pleased to use the growth of our audience, and the financial support which came with it, to expand our original ideas for the Archive into the shapes that you now see it taking today. Recording the best of every kind of English-language poetry. Forming alliances with other international poetry organisations. Hiring the best contemporary poets to make recordings of their predecessors, who died before recording was possible, and so on.

At the same time, while building a very rich and varied collection of core recordings, we have also seen the Archive begin to influence the way poetry is appreciated in general, is taught in schools, and perhaps even the way that it is written. By reminding people that the sound a poem makes is integral to its meaning, and cannot be separated from its page-sense (and not just in poetry that is written to be spoken, but ALL poetry), the Archive has re-asserted a very ancient connection that takes us close to the heart of what poetry is and does. Our Poetry by Heart competition, which has run very successfully for the last four years, is of course a further proof of this.
These are the two aspects of the Archive that have given me most pleasure in all the time I’ve worked for it - to see poetry joining hands around the world, and to hear the value of its sounds affirmed. And all at the nudge of a mouse. I hope everyone who has enjoyed watching the Archive grow, and who supports us now, will continue to spread the word and to help us in our work.”

So What Can You Expect?

Lots More Voices

The plan for the Poetry Archive for the next ten years is to stick to what we’re good at. We want to continue to capture the voices of English-language poets across the world and make those recordings available to as many people as possible.

Technological Advances

As Richard Carrington noted, technology moves pretty fast and for that reason we are always looking for ways to improve the experience of our website. We are pleased to announce a BRAND NEW feature, launched today – our ‘Special Collections’ area. This new area of the Archive enables us to curate collections of poetry under a wide range of headings. It has been made possible thanks to the generous support of the British Council. We're launching this new section today with the Shakespeare 400 collection, which is part of the Shakespeare Lives in 2016 programme. The collection launch coincides with the release of Bloomsbury's book ‘On Shakespeare’s Sonnets: A Poets' Celebration', which is where the poems recorded in the collection can be found. To view the new Collections, simply click the image below.
We want to continue to improve our website, making it even more enjoyable and accessible. For example, when funds allow, we’ll upgrade the Archive so that the site is more friendly for the many people who visit us on tablets and mobiles. Do please let us know what you think would improve your experience of the Archive.


Children's Poetry Archive

We are also in the very early stages of redeveloping The Children’s Poetry Archive. We urgently want to be able to make the Children's Archive as enjoyable and varied for children as the main Archive has become for our grown-up visitors. While those plans are being developed, we have recently launched a delightful resource for children and their families and teachers: please visit our Poetry for Children resource to explore the colourful world of poetry written specially for children.

Ensuring the Next Ten Years

We Need Your Help

Because we are a non-profit organization, a registered charity (no. 1093858), the work we do can only continue through the generosity of our supporters. We have been very fortunate over the years to have the support of trusts and foundations and also of generous individuals. Details can be found on our Benefactors page. Most importantly, we are fortunate to be in touch with so many people like you - people who are interested in the work we do and in hearing a wide range of poetry read by the poets who wrote it, people who enjoy reading more and learning more about contemporary poetry. Your support is vital in enabling us to continue our work to record and preserve the voices of key English-language poets and to continue to fulfil our mission to make poetry accessible, relevant and enjoyable for as many people as possible around the world.

Support The Poetry Archive

Brand New - Sponsor A Poem

We are very excited to announce that you can now sponsor poems in the Archive. You can sponsor a poem as a gift for someone, in memory of someone, or simply just because you love the poem. It only costs £5 a month or £50 for the year to have your dedication added to your special poem. The money you pay helps cover the cost of keeping that poem freely available and hosted on the website, meaning that you are helping others enjoy your poem. The steps couldn't be easier:

Step 1 - Sign up to Sponsor A Poem through the dedicated CAF page.

Step 2 - You will recieve an email confirming your payment and asking you to choose your poem.

Step 3 - Once we have confirmed the poem and the wording you want to appear, we update the poem with your message for everyone to see.

Please note that poems can only be sponsored by one person at a time, and that they are on a first come first served basis. So if you have a poem you particularly love you will need to act fast to secure it.

As a special bonus to celebrate Valentine's Day - anyone who signs up before Saturday 13th wishing to dedicate a poem to someone for Valentine's Day will also get their dedication promoted via Twitter.

Sponsor A Poem

Finally... A Fond Farewell

It wouldn’t be right to celebrate our first 10 years without paying a heartfelt tribute to Gary McKeone for his magnificent leadership as Chair of the Archive’s trustees since 2006. Formerly Literature Director at Arts Council England, Gary has been an unfailingly wise adviser, a subtle, gentle and profoundly effective leader, a splendid companion and an incomparable champion of the work of the Archive. Gary retired as our Chair at the end of 2015. We miss him very much but we are hugely encouraged by the silver lining to the cloud of Gary’s departure – the happy fact that the multi-award-winning poet Jean Sprackland has taken over as the Archive’s Chair.
Jean also has a long-standing relationship with the Archive: she was our first Education Manager in the early days and has been a trustee since 2011. The whole Archive team is hugely looking forward to working with Jean in the years to come. "I've loved the Poetry Archive for over a decade, and I'm delighted to be working with staff and fellow trustees to lead it as it enters this next stage of growth and development." - Jean Sprackland.
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