The Poetry Archive

And the Obsidian Collection

Tracey Guiry

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When a poet dies without being recorded, a unique voice and slice of social history is lost forever and that loss is felt more keenly as time passes. The Poetry Archive is the only UK charity wholly dedicated to the production, acquisition and preservation of a unique digital collection of recordings of poets reading their own work. We now hold one of the richest and most unique collections of original recordings of poetry in the UK. We believe there are profound insights which come from hearing a poet’s own reading of their work and we celebrate the relationship between the poem and the listening experience.

The Poetry Archive collections focus on the power of poetry heard out loud to stimulate and inspire creativity, support excellent educational development and provide positive support to mental wellbeing, resilience. If you can inspire a love of poetry in a child’s mind then they will have the support of poetry throughout their lives – and this is why it is so important to ensure the Poetry Archive reflects all the many and varied voices which make up the artform today. Poems are social and cultural documentaries which reflect the lived experience of their writers and the culture that produces them.  As archivists, the Poetry Archive team think in terms of deep time. If the loss of a unique poetic voice is felt more keenly over time, then having open and free access to that voice also grows richer through time.

The Obsidian Foundation Collection is curated by Nick Makoha, the Director of Obsidian. We wanted the collection to represents some of the finest contemporary Black British poets writing today and so, of course, we asked the people and communities who know who the keynote poets are.  Nick’s work at the Obsidian Foundation involves developing new poets, creating a space where they can find their voice.  So the partnership between the space which helps create those voices and the space which helps to preserve and share them around the world is natural one. 

Each of the poets in this first cohort come into the Archive in their own right as important contemporary poets. They join a dazzling list of poets who already have recordings with us, including James Berry, Langston Hughes, Jean Binta Breeze, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Grace Nicols, Derek Walcott, Fred D’Aguiar, Olive Senior - and with apologies to the many names not listed here I would simply urge you to come into the Poetry Archive at www.poetryarchive.org and seek them out!  As digital sharing of artists’ work increases, the Archive believes poets must be paid fairly for their work, so we always pay royalty fees and recording fees to our poets, and invest marketing budget into making sure that their Archvie entries are widely shared to support and help their careers. 

The Obsidian Foundation collaboration has also enabled the Poetry Archive to think more deeply about the stories and contextual information we carry around our poets. What might a listener in 500 or 1000 years’ time want to know about a poet? Whilst collecting poetry and interviews from the group of Obsidian poets we realised immediately that we were going to need a bigger format to properly represent their full richness and depth. The Archive has always provided biographies, reading lists and educational resources around our poets, but this collection allowed us to play with collecting longer interviews, holding online events and readings, writing blog posts, biographies, timelines and podcasts. We were able to sit with poets and find out how they gained their inspiration and the power and energy to keep going.  This is invaluable information for poets, who need to know who came before them. It is also incredibly inspiring for any person wondering what poetry is all about, why it deserves such love and attention, and how it can transform lives for the better. 

Our formal Education programmes and resources enable and encourage teachers to use our poetry collections in their teaching. Young people are incredibly sophisticated in their tastes and we are always thrilled by the feedback we get. For children under 14, our dedicated Children’s Poetry Archive at www.childrens.poetryarchive.org provides a safe space where they can explore poetry, use their own ‘MyArchive’ accounts to create their own playlists and share them with friends, all the while being introduced to all sorts of new voices, ideas and imagery.  

The Poetry Archive is committed to providing free poetry and education resources to the public and, in 2021 we celebrated our 20th year. With support from the Arts Council, England, Foundations and our fantastic Members and donors, we have built a strong, engaged audience for poetry around the UK and the world, with over 5 million pages of poetry viewed each year from our websites and social media channels. We want to create meaningful interactions which provide a space to inspire conversations through collections which are open and relevant to all audiences, and we hope you will love our new approach in the Obsidian Collection, which will now grow with new poets every year into the future. As a charity, we rely on our fundraising efforts and the support of our Members, so if there is any way you can help us to produce and preserve recordings of poetry by making a donation or becoming a member, or by working with us in some way,  we promise to you that we will keep poetry safe for the future. Please visit is online and let us know what you think. 


Dr Tracey Guiry has led charities working in the Arts and Cultural sector for over 25 years. Her career began in film-making before moving to film display as the first Director of the IMAX cinema in Bristol. She went on to visitor attraction leadership before focusing on heritage and literature development. With Alex Cluness she founded Literature Works, the literature development agency for the South West, in 2007, before joining The Poetry Archive in November 2016. She was awarded her PhD with a thesis which looked at the representation of dementia in children’s literature.  Her experience of the transformative potential of poetry, and its ability to build bridges between individuals and communities, has enabled her to grow The Poetry Archive’s audiences and make their poetry collections available and relevant to an every growing national and international audience.