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The Poetry Archive

Chrissie Gittins, writer-in-residence, Lewisham, introduces the Poetry Archive:

The Poetry Archive is a unique,philanthropic project and the world’s foremost collection of English-language poetry recordings. It was set up in 1999 by Sir Andrew Motion,the previous poet laureate,and the producer Richard Carrington. The site currently gets around 200,000 visitors a month.

The web-site at makes recorded readings available along with information for teachers and students and for the general reader/listener. Significant poets who write in English are invited to choose from their own poems and record a reading lasting sixty minutes. Between seven and ten minutes from each recording
are made freely available on the website and each full recording is offered for sale.

There are over 200 poets on the site including Benjamin Zephaniah, Wendy Cope, Michael Rosen, Philip Larkin, and Pam Ayres, along with our current poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy. There are also three poets who lived in the borough of Lewisham – Robert Browning, Walter de la Mare and Spike Milligan.

Robert Browning lived at Telegraph Cottage near New Cross Road in 1840 until he eloped with Elizabeth Barrett to Italy in 1845. His is the oldest recording on the Archive. Made in 1889, he was persuaded to recite into a phonograph at a dinner party from his poem ‘How They Brought the Good News from Ghent to Aix’. He forgets his words after a few lines then tries again.

In 1877 Walter de la Mare moved to 5 Bovill Terrace (now 6 Bovill Road), and in about the same year he moved to 57 Brookbank Road, Lewisham. He visited Thomas Hardy at his house in Dorset in June 1921 and the poem he reads on the Archive – ‘Thomas Hardy’ – celebrates this visit.

Spike Milligan was educated at South East London Polytechnic (now Lewisham College) and he lived at 22 Gabriel Street, Honor Oak, and 50 Riseldine Road (Honor Oak/Crofton Park) after coming to England from India in the 1930s.He reads the delightful nonsense poems ‘The Land of the Bumbly Boo’ and ‘On the Ning Nang Nong’.

I was honoured to be invited last year to record my children’s poems for the Archive and spent a wonderful morning in a studio in West London. I hope you enjoy the Poetry Archive. There are guided tours to help you find your way through and special sections for historic recordings,American poets and, of course, children’s poetry!

Chrissie Gittins, Writer-in-Residence, Lewisham