poetry and COVID

May 10, 2021

The Francis Crick Institute, in London, is dedicated to understanding the fundamental biology underlying health and disease. Among its many ongoing activities, the Institute is running a large-scale COVID-19 vaccination center and, in partnership with Poet in the City, has commissioned 12 poets to help create an exhibition entitled A drop of hope: poetry from a vaccination centre.

As visitors enter the building (at the rate of about a thousand per day), they are invited to fill out a postcard where they can reflect on the pandemic and note their thoughts and feelings about getting vaccinated. They leave the postcards as they exit and the poets use these reflections to inform and inspire their work.

Each poet is commissioned to write one poem and the first four were unveiled last week, displayed on the exterior of the Institute’s Manby Gallery. “Of the 12 poems which will form part of the final installation, two will be in Bengali and two in Somali, reflecting the ethnic diversity of the people who contributed to the project and the community in local Camden.” You can read the poems and learn more about A Drop of Hope here.

next time you’re in London

December 15, 2018

It has been a few years since we mentioned the National Poetry Library in London. Founded in 1953, the library moved its expanded collection to the Royal Festival Hall at Southbank Centre in 1988, with Seamus Heaney presiding over the grand opening.

The library posts daily poems, has a free online poem collection and catalogue, assists with “lost quote” requests, has a collection of over 2,000 audio recordings, about 2,000 postcards and poem cards, some 1,500 posters, year-round events and exhibitions, and an online listing of poetry competitions.

The National Poetry Library is the largest public collection of modern poetry in the world, is open six days a week, and is free to visit.

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photo by Gapfall

meanwhile, in Trafalgar Square

September 21, 2018

If you happen to be in London as you read this post, hurry over to Trafalgar Square to see “Please Feed the Lions,” an installation by artist Es Devlin that fuses design, poetry, and machine learning. Painted a hard-to-ignore fluorescent red, the piece invites passersby to “feed” the lion a word and then uses a deep learning algorithm developed by Ross Goodwin, creative technologist at Google, to compose a poem, which appears on a display in the lion’s mouth. At night, the poem’s evolving text is projected across the body of the lion and on Nelson’s Column.

Part of the London Design Festival, the interactive work will be on display through Sunday, September 23, 2018, only. Read more about the project and the lion’s daily poem on Google Arts & Culture.

Federico García Lorca by Marcelle Auclair

If The Economist is not your typical go-to source for poetry news, they’ve made a fine exception for this week’s article, “The resurrection of Federico García Lorca.” In addition to offering background on Lorca’s short life, the article celebrates a new staging of his play, “Yerma,” at the Young Vic in London. Yerma runs through September 24, 2016.

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Federico García Lorca, photographed in the 1930s by French writer Marcelle Auclair

public poetry

April 1, 2016

Google Poetrics

Talk about crowd-sourcing! At the new Google facility under construction at King’s Cross, London, Poetrics is an interactive installation that translates voices into poetry. Three motion-activated microphones pick up voices and use Google’s speech recognition software to interpret the words, which are then displayed on a series of 17 LED panels. (The panels are arranged in three lines of 5, 7, and 5 words — not syllables — although the designers say that they were inspired by haiku.*) See more pictures and see the report on ITV news.
*For the down and dirty on 5-7-5, see this explanation.

poetry in the air(port)

March 20, 2016


A tip of the passport to Heathrow Airport, London, which will add poetry to air this Easter holiday (Easter is March 27). Anticipating a larger-than-usual crowd and lots of families, the airport teamed up with four children’s authors and poets to create and record poems about holidays and travel for “poetry points” in the airport terminals. As part of the initiative, children under the age of 16 are also invited to submit their own holiday-themed poem and there will be workshops conducted around the airport. Read the story on the Heathrow Airport website and follow the links to read and watch the poems.

Reasons to go to… London

January 31, 2016

Freud Museum

Should you find yourself in London, England, on Saturday, March 12, 2016, you may want to take in the Spring Psychoanalytic Poetry Festival organized by The Freud Museum and The Poetry Society and to be held at the Freud Museum London. The program sounds intriguing, promising “talks, readings, conversations and film screenings, speakers from the worlds of poetry, film and psychoanalysis.” Find details and the registration link on the Festival event page.

memory test

November 23, 2015

lost quotationsLocated at the Royal Festival Hall in London, The Poetry Library collects British poetry from 1912 on, including books, magazines and other media. In addition to lending services, classes, exhibits, reading and writing groups and other activities, The Poetry Library maintains a list of frequently-requested poems and a Lost Quotations page, where the answers to queries regarding poems are crowd-sourced. Have a look at Lost Quotations…maybe you can help.

Poets’ Corner

June 19, 2015

Poets' Corner, Westminster Abbey

Here’s another entry for your poetry travel files.

Should you find yourself in London, England, visiting Westminster Abbey, take some time to explore Poets’ Corner. Surrounded by medieval carvings and stained glass windows, Poets’ Corner is in the South Transept. There you’ll find monuments and plaques marking the burial or commemoration of writers, playwrights and poets dating from Chaucer to the present day. Ted Hughes was the last to be so honored, in 2011, and Westminster Abbey has just announced that a floor stone will be dedicated to Philip Larkin on December 2, 2016, the anniversary of Larkin’s death. For more information on Poets’ Corner and a list of memorials, visit the Westminster Abbey website.

poetry underfoot

September 16, 2014

Tennyson - The Two Voices

What would Alfred, Lord Tennyson say?

The Two Voices,” written when Tennyson was just 24, is a 462-line conversation made up of rhymed tercets. In the poem, two voices attempt to persuade one another of the merits of grief, suicide, faith, loss of faith, despair and hope.

From this intense and rather dark exchange, the British Museum, in London, has inscribed a portion of one stanza in the floor of the Great Court — a fragment that betrays nothing of the poem’s subject or form.

This is the complete tercet, which appears about a quarter of the way into the poem:

Forerun thy peers, thy time, and let
Thy feet, millenniums hence, be set
In midst of knowledge, dream’d not yet.

The space is grand, the sentiment museum-appropriate. What would Tennyson say?
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photo by Jon Spence

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