The Poetry Archive exists to help make poetry accessible, relevant and enjoyable to a wide audience. It came into being as a result of a meeting, in a recording studio, between Andrew Motion, soon after he became U.K. Poet Laureate in 1999, and the recording producer, Richard Carrington. They agreed about how enjoyable and illuminating it is to hear poets reading their work and about how regrettable it was that, even in the recent past, many important poets had not been properly recorded.
Poetry was an oral art form before it became textual. Homer’s work lived through the spoken word long before any markings were made on a page. Hearing a poet reading his or her work remains uniquely illuminating. It helps us to understand the work as well as helping us to enjoy it. When a poet dies without making a recording, a precious resource is lost for ever and as time goes by that loss is felt more and more keenly. What would we not give to be able to hear Keats and Byron reading their work? And, if recording had been possible in the early nineteenth century, how inexplicable it would seem now if no-one had recorded their voices. Yet in the twentieth century, when recording technology became universal, there was no systematic attempt to record all significant poets for posterity and even some major poets – Thomas Hardy and A. E. Housman (as far as we know. Please tell us if you have a recording of Hardy or Housman reading his poetry!), for example – died without having been recorded at all. The Poetry Archive has, therefore, been created to make sure that such omissions never happen again and that everyone has a chance to hear major poets reading their work.
I can’t believe I haven’t linked to it before, but now I’ve remedied that omission. Thanks, Grumbly!