Innovating Through Artistry

The Poetry Archive

In ENTREPRENEUR THE ARTS, The Idea, WEBSITES & BLOGS, Writing on September 23, 2008 at 6:35 pm

Andrew Motion is an English poet, novelist and biographer, who is the current Poet Laureate in the United Kingdom. A Poet Laureate, for those of you who do not know, is a poet officially appointed by a government and is often expected to compose poems for State occasions and other government events. In England, the official poet of the monarch is an appointed made for life, since the time of Charles II. What a great job huh?

Seems like Andrew Motion could just sit back and write poems these days, but almost three years ago he set out on a mission to create a not for profit organization called the The Poetry Archive.

With almost no poetry on television, outside of your occasional rapper turned poet, and the poetry shelves of most bookshops small and poorly-stocked, Andrew recognized that poetry is increasingly no longer part of familiar life.

Our intention was to use the internet to prove that the sound of a poem is as essential to its meaning as the words on the page. And we wanted that sound to be made by the authors themselves because we felt as we still feel: that poets have unique rights on and insights into their own work. Their accents, pacing, inflection, emphasis and tone all tell us vital truths about intended meaning, indicating the ways in which a work of art is and is not dependent on its creator’s self, and achieving a matchless blend of intimacy and address.

We also wanted a website that would be serious but fun, containing high-quality recordings of contemporary English-language poets as well as the best surviving recordings of the mighty dead, starting with the earliest of all: Tennyson.

Around these recordings we wanted to see equally serious-but-fun educational material: brief biographies of the poets, interviews with poets, lesson plans, guided tours, an interactive glossary of terms. And we wanted there to be a colourful part of the site for children. It was an aim to design things in a way that would overcome some of the prejudices and puzzlements that surround the teaching of poetry in schools.

The website now has more than 125,000 unique visitors a month. Every month these visitors listen to more than a million pages of poetry for free. It seems that waning interest in poetry for much of the last century was not a lack of interest but delivery. The Poetry Archive and the internet have allowed poetry to connect with a wide readership.

The Archive has also just completed the first stage of a collaboration with the Poetry Foundation of America, which is funding the addition of 100 American poetic voices, which includes William Carlos Williams, and the US Poet Laureate Kay Ryan.


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