You are here

Meet the team

Image Credit: 
Pete Woodhead

Image Credit: 
Pete Woodhead

Find out about the faces behind the National Poetry Library, from our librarians to our event organisers and more!

Chris McCabe

Image Credit: 
Cesare De Giglio
Chris McCabe, National Poetry Librarian

Chris McCabe, National Poetry Librarian

I first visited the library on a day return train ticket from Liverpool. Two years later (2002) I was lucky to get a job as a library assistant and on my first day at work I met poet and musician Ivor Cutler. I later found out that Ivor’s visits to the National Poetry Library were the inspiration for Franz Ferdinand’s song ‘Jacqueline’, the namesake of the song being a previous library assistant (‘Jacqueline was seventeen / Working on a desk / When Ivor / Peered above a spectacle...’). I’ve made so many discoveries of poets I couldn’t live without, from first opening Barry MacSweeney’s Pearl to finding Rosemary Tonk’s weathered editions about 1960s underground London life. Every time I come to work I feel the next discovery is waiting to be found.

Lorraine Mariner, Assistant Librarian

I first found out about the National Poetry Library whilst studying at Library School; a fellow student told me about the library when they found out I dabbled in poetry. Could such a library really exist! I followed the net and ball carpet through Royal Festival Hall to Level 5, became a member, and would pop in on my way home from work (as a cataloguer at other libraries) to look at the magazines and decide which ones to send my poems to. I never imagined I’d get the chance to work here until a cataloguing job came up. Eleven years later I’m still here doing a bit of everything. An early memory of using the library is reading a poem in an anthology by Alden Nowlan, wanting more, and lo and behold there on the shelves were his books from Canada.

Will René, Assistant Librarian

Admittedly my first visit to the National Poetry Library was trying to slip by unnoticed in my ill-fitting suit just after my job interview here, to see whether the collection could possibly live up to the somewhat utopian ideal I had formed of it in my mind. I was not disappointed, and I’ve still not lost the sense of wonder and excitement I felt when I first saw how vast and rich a collection it is. I’ve grown particularly fond of the library’s broad and ever-changing collection of magazines, especially the idiosyncratic low budget journals that breathe so much life into the shelves – Zarf and SPAM are highlights at the moment.

Jessica Atkinson, Digital Content Manager

Working in the library has been a real conversion for me. Before I worked here I had only studied poetry at school and rarely read it for pleasure. But my bookshelves today tell a different story! Our collection is so broad and covers so many schools of thought (no matter how small or underground), anyone could find something in it that they would love. I’ve discovered so many incredible poets that I never would have come across otherwise and I’ve been lucky enough to meet some of them. One of my favourite items is Yonic Youth, a radical feminist zine created at Nottingham University to celebrate Women’s Herstory Month in 2017. This one-off uses collage, a typewriter and mono-printing to explore sisterhood and what it is to be a woman today – including Donald Trump slurs and DIY body-printing!

Lauren Purchase, Library Assistant

When writing my dissertation Wallace Stevens’ words ‘the poet is the priest of the invisible’ began to resound. It became clear that contemporary poets such as Chaucer could be analysed to gauge societal opinions towards those within the walls of medieval universities which had otherwise been left unrecorded. This reinforced to me the importance of each generation possessing poets who spiritually represent all. When the advertisement for a library assistant appeared in 2017 I naturally applied and now I feel privileged to be playing even a small part in assisting the nation’s current spokespeople and encouraging future voices. Philip Larkin’s Poetry Library membership form in the library’s rare book room beautifully highlights the harmonious historical relationship between the library and national poets.

Saradha Soobrayen, Library Assistant

Since 2007 I have been nurtured as a library user, editor, facilitator and performer. I’ve witnessed the transformation of the space and the expansion of the collection with its interweaving streams across languages, poetics and art forms. I recall viewing Ann Carson’s NOX in one sitting feeling both the ART and the POETRY. More unexpected gems are in the Rare Books Room: Nancy Campbell's How to say I love you in Greenlandic, and on the Books About Poetry shelves: David Shields’ Reality Hunger. The National Poetry Library is where the unknown becomes familiar, and where books become trusted companions on an unintentional journey.

Nina Powles, Library Assistant

The National Poetry Library was one of the first places I visited when I moved to London. Right away it felt a bit like my home away from home. As a writer, there’s no better place to work; my ideas about what “poetry” can mean are shifting all the time. I am always on the lookout for strange, gorgeous poetry books that are also interesting physical objects themselves. Some of my favourite finds include Anne Carson's Antigonick with surreal illustrations by Bianca Stone, a handmade book of ancient Japanese lyric poetry called Land of the Reed Plains, and a 1930 anthology of New Zealand poetry called Kowhai Gold, in which over half the poets included are women.

Russell Thompson, Library Assistant

In the late 1980s, I belonged to a poetry group in Essex and one month we had a special guest: Mary Enright from somewhere called the Poetry Library. This sounded like a jolly interesting place. Excitingly, Mary invited us to hold our next meeting at the library itself. Us Chelmsford hicks in that there London! On the day, the library didn't disappoint. A fun sort of place to work, I thought. And a mere thirty years later, my wish (if that's what it had been) came true. By then, I'd spent a decade teaching creative writing, a decade programming spoken-word events, and a decade traipsing round the poetry-cabaret circuit in a skirt. These days I can usually be found on the front desk at the National Poetry Library, hoping that some of this experience has ultimately been to the greater good of our borrowers.

Karen Smith, Cataloguer

A lifelong library fan, I discovered the National Poetry Library whilst reading English literature 15 years ago at Goldsmiths. I used to linger by the entrance, eyeing the new books display and feeling like a treasure hunter with too many prospects. Time dissolved and the longer I spent in the stacks, the more I wanted to read. The collection was invaluable during my Master’s degree (Modern Poetry at Kent, focused on the New York School) and I created a reason to come back as part of my librarianship studies (what resources are out there for... contemporary poetry?). A new cataloguing position came up in 2014 and I knew it was the role for me. It’s such a special collection and I particularly love describing additions to our panoply of artists’ books. I can now eye-up new books all day long!