Listening to poetry

Poetry was an oral art form before it became textual. Homer's work lived through the spoken word long before any markings were made on a page. Hearing a poet reading his or her work remains uniquely illuminating. It helps us to understand the work as well as helping us to enjoy it. When a poet dies without making a recording, a precious resource is lost for ever and as time goes by that loss is felt more and more keenly. What would we not give to be able to hear Keats and Byron reading their work?

Poetry was an oral art form before it became textual. Homer's work lived through the spoken word long before any markings were made on a page. Hearing a poet reading his or her work remains uniquely illuminating. It helps us to understand the work as well as helping us to enjoy it. When a poet dies without making a recording, a precious resource is lost for ever and as time goes by that loss is felt more and more keenly. What would we not give to be able to hear Keats and Byron reading their work? And, if recording had been possible in the early nineteenth century, how inexplicable it would seem now if no-one had recorded their voices. Yet in the twentieth century, when recording technology became universal, there was no systematic attempt to record all significant poets for posterity and even some major poets - Thomas Hardy and A. E. Housman (as far as we know. Please tell us if you have a recording of Hardy or Housman reading his poetry!), for example - died without having been recorded at all. The Poetry Archive was, therefore, created to make sure that such omissions never happen again and that everyone has a chance to hear major poets reading their work.

Insight, understanding, enjoyment

Some actors read poems effectively and poets sometimes read other poets' work with intelligence and sympathy. But writers have a particular right to their own work and we are taken to a deeper level of understanding by hearing how they speak it. To students of poetry and to all lovers of literature, such a reading is a powerful source of insight, understanding and enjoyment.

Using state-of the-art technology, the Poetry Archive restores poetry to its roots. It preserves for future generations uniquely valuable voices which might otherwise be lost. And it will re-energise, enliven and enhance the teaching of poetry at all levels.

Glossary term

Line

A subdivision of a poem, specifically a group of words arranged into a row that ends for a reason other than the right-hand margin.

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A tour of the Archive with Andrew Motion

My short tour of the Poetry Archive is designed to show its range, as well as the strength-in-depth of its holdings...

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