For Books’ Sake Presents: Women Poets at the Poetry Library

18th Jan 2011

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Last night, For Books’ Sake and friends assembled on the ominously quiet fifth floor of the Southbank Centre for an exclusive evening in the Poetry Library.

With over 100,000 items dating from 1912 onwards, it’s the most comprehensive collection of contemporary poetry in Britain, so of course our intrepid explorers were intrigued by the opportunity to snoop through its shelves.

Laid out for us to peruse were an assortment of anthologies featuring women poets, including As Girls Could Boast (ed. Christina Dunhill), Salt and Bitter and Good: Three Centuries of English and American Women Poets (ed. Cora Kaplan) and the Virago Book of Wicked Verse (ed. Jill Dawson).

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We were then treated to a talk by Miriam Valencia from the Poetry Library, taking us on a tour of women’s poetry in the century since the earliest works in their collection. Highlights included Charlotte Mew’s poem The Farmer’s Bride and Selima Hill’s Advice on Wearing Animal Prints, as well as the political poetry associated with the second-wave feminist movement.

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Once we’d had half an hour of noseying through the libary’s mammoth collection (and resisting the temptation to re-enact a certain scene from Ghostbusters between the sinister rolling shelves), we reconvened once more to share our favourite finds.

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Collaborations combining poetry with visual art were a hit with our attendees, especially Christina the Astonishing by Jane Draycott and Lesley Saunders, and What the Water Gave Me, a beautiful volume of poetry by Pascale Petit, inspired by the artwork of Frida Kahlo and shortlisted for the T.S. Elliot Prize.

Other poems shared by our attendees included The Barometer by Kathleen Jamie, Carol Ann Duffy’s The Diet and My Whole Family from Sonya SonesStop Pretending: What Happened When My Big Sister Went Crazy. I came away with an entire wishlist of wonderful books to track down, and I’m sure the others did too.

Thanks again to everyone who attended, and to Miriam from the Poetry Library for inviting us and sharing her epic knowledge of so many wonderful women poets!

Want more? Sign yourself up to the Poetry Library’s free event on the 7th February, at which they’ll be discussing Carol Ann Duffy’s Love Poems as part of the Southbank Centre Book Club, or join the library for free by popping in with ID and proof of address.

Jane Bradley