Explore highlights from the National Poetry Library's posters collection as we celebrate our 70th birthday in 2023
Poetry Goes Online
Poetry magazines are at the heart of the National Poetry Library’s collection. Twenty years ago, the library launched the website poetrymagazines.co.uk. This was an incredible free online resource of twentieth and twenty-first century poetry magazines, eventually holding over 6,000 poems. In 2018 the site was archived and is no longer updated, but it was selected by the British Library to be archived by their digital heritage web project, the UK Web Archive. It remains freely accessible in its archived form, a digital piece of the library’s history. Today you can find poetry in video, audio as well as text on our current website.
Phone the Poetry Hotline!
From poetry games to collaborative live poems, the library always plans a unique celebration to mark National Poetry Day on the first Thursday of October every month. On National Poetry Day in 1994, you could phone the librarians on the poetry hotline with your “half-remembered lines” and poetry questions to test out what was then the world’s largest online poetry database. Today the library still runs a lost quote service: you can complete this form at any time with a request for us to try and trace a poem for you.
Anne Carson at Poetry International, 1998
The first ever Poetry International took place at Southbank Centre in 1967. Since then, renowned poets from around the world have descended on London for the biennial festival. In 1998, Canadian poet and classicist Anne Carson joined the line-up. This moody poster is one of a series made to celebrate the 1998 festival, along with portraits of Alice Oswald, Paul Muldoon and Allen Curnow, who shared the stage with Carson in what must have been a powerful evening of poetry. The audio recording is available to listen to in the library.
Wole Soyinka at Poetry International, 2002
2002 was another big year for Poetry International, with headliners including Yang Lian, Yusef Komunyakaa and Mark Doty. This poster showcases the Nobel prize winning writer and playwright Wole Soyinka, who appeared at the festival. His poem ‘Apologia (Nkomati)’ highlights the political roots of Poetry International. The National Poetry Library collection holds many of Soyinka’s poetry collections and plays, along with several rare recordings of him performing his work.
Poems on the Underground
The Poetry Library holds a complete collection of Poems on the Underground posters which are displayed on tube car panels throughout London’s public transport system. In 2018, Transport for London created a special Windrush 70th Anniversary collection, featuring Jean Binta Breeze, James Berry, Lorna Goodison, Kwame Dawes, Andrew Salkey and Grace Nichols.
A Drawing of Sylvia Plath
There are a number of poets whose books are almost always out on loan at the library. Sylvia Plath is one of those. This poster published by Faber & Faber is part of a series featuring hand-drawn sketches of poets including Seamus Heaney, W.H. Auden and T.S. Eliot. Plath was the only female writer featured in the series. A skirt owned by Plath is on display until 10th September 2023 at the National Poetry Library as part of our free exhibition Poets in Vogue.
Bear Hunt in the Library
Children’s poetry is an important part of the Poetry Library’s story. The library is often visited by school groups and children of all ages, especially for our Friday morning Rug Rhymes sessions. In the 1990s, a series of children’s productions were held in the library space, which must have been an interesting theatrical experience. Among them was the beloved classic We’re Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen.
The Resurrection of Dylan Thomas
In 2000 a remarkable sculpture of the poet Dylan Thomas was unearthed from the storage vaults of the Royal Festival Hall. In 2003 an event celebrating and resurrecting Thomas was held as part of the library’s 50th birthday celebrations, with poet Dannie Abse unveiling the bust. The sculpture still lives in the library today.
Between Art and Poetry
The National Poetry Library holds a rich collection of contemporary artist’s books, zines and visual poetry. The library’s free exhibitions and Open Days offer opportunities for the public to view some of these special items. This unique exhibition poster showcases the work of the Chinese poet and artist Chan Ky-Yut, whose artist’s books and prints were displayed in the Poetry Library in the exhibition The Colour of Inside Hearing back in 2004.
It's Raining Poems
On 26 June 2012, thousands of poems fell from the sky all over the South Bank of the River Thames, landing on rooftops and sidewalks and in people’s laps. Rain of Poems was a ‘public intervention’ performance piece by the group Casagrande as part of Poetry Parnassus festival, a huge gathering of poets from around the world at Southbank Centre. This striking poster with its cascading lines of text captures the dizzying scale of the event.
Discover our complete collection of poetry posters on our catalogue here.