Poetry on demand

January 15, 2007

The Poetry Archive

The Poetry Archive is a fantastic example of what the connected, high-speed web can do for literature. Inspired by a meeting in 1999 between the UK Poet Laureate Andrew Motion and the recording producer Richard Carrington, it provides recordings of English-language poets reading their own works.

It’s a wonderful idea, exactly the sort of thing a Poet Laureate should be coming up with and promoting, and exactly the kind of resource that the Internet can handle so well. The archive is quite small at the moment (not to mention mostly male and entirely white, which seems pretty unforgiveable), but can grow forever, and hopefully new features will be added with more content. It would be good, for example, to be able to embed poems, like YouTube videos, in other pages – imagine opening up a MySpace profile, for example, and hearing not The Horrors or somesuch, but Allen Ginsberg intoning Howl?

I tried to hack the extensive javascript used to play the recordings, but did not succeed. If anyone finds a way to stream the files directly from the site, please let me know. In the meantime, I’ll just link to a couple of personal favourites: here’s Louis MacNiece reading his dark, depths-of-the-war, Prayer before Birth, and Don Paterson’s lovely Scottish brogue in The Lover.

I got very excited when I saw a quote from Tristan Tzara on the rotating front page too (“Poetry shakes the laughter out of the apple tree”), but alas, no Tzara yet. There’s some great files on him at ubuweb however:

L’amiral Cherche Une Maison à Louer

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