About us

The Poetry Archive exists to help make poetry accessible, relevant and enjoyable to a wide audience. It came into being as a result of a meeting, in a recording studio, between Sir Andrew Motion, soon after he became U.K. Poet Laureate in 1999, and the recording producer, Richard Carrington. They agreed about how enjoyable and illuminating it is to hear poets reading their work and about how regrettable it was that, even in the recent past, many important poets had not been properly recorded.

A project for posterity

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.

Poet Selection Process

The Poetry Archive aims to bring the widest possible audience to the fullest possible range of English-language poetry being published around the world, and to complement that poetry with educational material of value both to the specialist and to the general reader. It has no editorial agenda except to demonstrate the range and richness of poetry in all its forms.

The Archive will never be complete. We plan to go on adding more and more recordings as time passes and funds permit. There are very many English-language poets we want to add to the site; because the Poetry Archive is a charity with limited means, this process of growth has to be structured.

Poets are chosen for inclusion by a panel under the Chairmanship of Andrew Motion, one of the founders of the Archive. The selection process is guided by advice from a large number of writers and critics, many of whom have specialist knowledge of particular regions or styles, and the panel's choices are determined by several factors: by the wish to demonstrate the variety of poetry being published, by the wish to make a selection which demonstrates the excellence of every kind of that variety, and by the availability of the necessary funding.

The panel is always looking for reasons to include people and never for reasons to exclude anyone. At any given moment there is a long list of poets we want to be able to add to the Archive. We always welcome recommendations from visitors to the site about the poets we should add.

It is important to emphasize that we do not consider poets who are already in the Archive to be better poets than any who are not there yet. Funding sometimes dictates which poets we can add to the collection, and the need to acquire copyright permissions sometimes slows down the process of adding recordings which are high on our wish list.

The Poetry Archive is grateful for the generous donations it has received from statutory bodies, from charitable trusts and foundations and from philanthropic individuals, and looks forward to further donations, which will enable us to expand our collection of recordings.

The Children's Archive

The Poetry Archive has always recognised 'children's poetry' as a separate entity - hence the creation of the Children's Archive within our site, where visitors can find poems of all kinds (funny, sad, nonsensical, sensible, exhilarating, tragic, occasional, eternal) written with a younger audience in mind. However, we have never wanted to build an impregnable wall around 'children's poetry' because to do so would imply that there is no cross-over between its own world and the world of adult poetry, and because we think it's a mistake to suppose that children can only enjoy poems they entirely understand or are specific to their experience. After all, a great deal of our pleasure in poetry - whatever age we are - lies in our enjoyment of the mysteries that it contains, in our relish of puzzles and ambiguities and even difficulties, in the thrill of chasing after lines as they kick up their heels and skip towards the horizon saying 'Ha! you can't catch me!'. For all these reasons, we have built the Poetry Archive in general, and the Children's Archive in particular, in such a way as to make it easy to cross from one to the other, and to find examples of one in the other. Of course, there are some adult poems that are simply unsuitable for children. But here we have placed a selection of appropriate 'adult poems' alongside 'children's poems' in the expectation that they will bewitch younger readers and lead them on towards the mysteries and delights that lie ahead of them in later life.

Supporting the Archive

The Archive is a not-for-profit organisation with charitable status. It is run by a small staff, supported by a distinguished board of trustees and a panel of specialist advisers. We depend for our existence on funding from public bodies, charitable trusts and generous individuals. The money we earn from sales of Poetry Archive downloads and CDs goes towards making more recordings.

What the press say

The Poetry Archive

Daniel Day-Lewis

Billy Collins, Melvyn Bragg

Jean Sprackland (Chair), James Booth, Imtiaz Dharker, Adam Freudenheim, Estelle Morris, Loveday Shewell, Prof. Morag Styles, Erica Wagner.

Richard Carrington ([email protected]) and Sir Andrew Motion

Education Director
Julie Blake [email protected]

Operations Manager
Deborah Bourne  [email protected]

Marketing & Development Manager
Nicola Wheldrake  [email protected]

Sam Riviere, Emily Berry, Helen Ivory, Ben Wilkinson, Sam Buchan-Watts, George Ttoouli, Oli Hazzard, Alex Pryce, Stephen Pickles, Siobhan Harvey, Brian Johnstone, Dieter Riemenschneider, Prof. Macdonald P. Jackson, Mark Ford, David Eggleton, Riemke Ensing, Gerri Kimber, Hugh Roberts, Robert Sullivan, Vincent O'Sullivan, Simone Oettli, Janet Wilson, Andrew Bailey, Esther Morgan and John Tolputt

Archive Coordinator
Kate Dent  [email protected]

Film Maker
Alan Vaughan, Eye Witness Productions, Nailsworth, Gloucestershire, U.K. Eye Witness Video

Audio Editor
Chris Panton: DB Studios, Stroud, Gloucestershire, U.K. DB Studios

Contracts Managers
Stephen Aucutt and Kevin Stewart, Contracts for Publishing Ltd.

Rights & Acquisitions Manager
Connie Robertson  [email protected]

Fiona Meadley

New Zealand Poets
Project Manager: Jan Kemp; Assistant Manager: Siobhan Harvey

Enjoy new recordings of classic poems from the past read by contemporary poets

Strange Hells

Ivor Gurney

read by Glyn Maxwell

Composed upon...

William Wordsworth

read by Adam Foulds

The Poetry Archive’s vision is to acquire and make recordings of contemporary English-language poets reading their own work, collect and preserve recordings of great poets from the past, and make extracts from all these recordings available free of charge.