“Poetry’s not for you—poetry’s for everyone”: UK Poetry Library Network in conversation
In 1983, Adrienne Rich described a culture in which as a poet she was always ‘destined to be a luxury, a decorative garnish on the buffet-table of the university curriculum, the ceremonial occasion, the national celebration’. With four dedicated poetry libraries situated within a 200-mile radius, does the UK at this point in time represent something different: somewhere that values poetry, that seeks to integrate it in the everyday, somewhere that poetry is central rather than marginal? While enthusiasts say ‘poetry is for everyone’, a note of insistence might be detected behind that statement. After all, it contends with a powerful voice—a voice recognisable in particular to educators at all levels—that argues to the contrary: ‘poetry is not for me’.
What is a poetry library? Is it neutral in the debate of what is considered poetry, or must it be forced to act, inevitably as another one of poetry’s gatekeepers? Are poetry libraries rising to the challenge of creating collections that reflect the diversity of communities they serve? Are they expanding curricula? Are they supporting all of poetry’s advocates? Are they going beyond luxury, ceremony and celebration? Are they being everything a poetry library could be?
Poetry libraries in the UK have acted as invaluable resources for readers and writers since the first poetry library was established in 1953. They have made the benefits and enjoyment of poetry as widely available as possible and have facilitated projects in a wide range of fields from health to education.
From 2020, the UK will be home to four poetry libraries as Manchester joins Edinburgh, London and Morpeth in hosting a library of its own. As well as comprehensive collections of poetry spanning the last two centuries, each library has unique specialisms bound up with their individual history and situation. The UK Poetry Libraries Network was first proposed in 2018 to advocate for the power of poetry libraries and to discuss the challenges they face.
The UK Poetry Libraries Network invites you to join them for a conversation about their past, present and future. This will include an introduction for those unfamiliar with the work of poetry libraries in the UK. Whether you have personal and professional experience of poetry libraries (and poetry) or not, everyone is welcome.
Maria Carnegie (Head Librarian, Scottish Poetry Library)
Becky Swain (Director, Manchester Poetry Library)
Chris McCabe (Head Librarian, National Poetry Library)
Jenny Kinnear (Senior Librarian, Northern Poetry Library)
Dr Martin Kratz (Chair, Manchester Metropolitan University)