Poem by poem, town by town
Places of Poetry was a community arts project, centred on a digital map of England and Wales. The project was led by poet Paul Farley and the academic Andrew McRae from the Universities of Lancaster and Exeter, with The Poetry Society as its proud partner. Throughout the summer of 2019, writers from across the country were invited to write new poems of place, heritage and identity, and pin them to the map. Places of Poetry helped us reflect on our national and cultural identities, and celebrate the diversity, heritage and personalities of place.
For centuries, authors have used poetry to reflect on local and national identities. One poet, Michael Drayton, published the epic of national description, Poly-Olbion (1612, 1622), that included the county maps to be adapted for Places of Poetry. Contemporary technology-based crowd-sourcing now enables us to involve writers of all ages, backgrounds and levels of experience in similar reflection on places and their histories.
The digital map is overlaid on Ordnance Survey data, on a platform that enables users to slide between the two and zoom in to a high level of detail. Writers were invited to pin poems to sites that have inspired the writing. The Poetry Society devised a series of prompts and exercises for all levels of writer to encourage their new poems of place – those resrouces are still available.
Additionally, events and activities were staged at various heritage partner sites across England and Wales, each of which had a poet-in-residence. The venues were Avebury (National Trust), Big Pit National Coal Museum, Byker Community Trust, Caernarfon Castle, Ely Cathedral, Hadrian’s Wall (National Trust), The Oval (Surrey County Cricket Club), Peak District National Park (National Trust), Roman Baths, Severn Rivers Trust, Sherwood Forest (RSPB), Stonehenge (English Heritage), and the Wordsworth Trust – and other heritage sites of all kinds and sizes got involved and created their own activities and events.
The Places of Poetry project was generously funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, The Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England. It was underpinned by national partnerships with the Ordnance Survey and The Poetry Society.
A selection of the poems from the map will be published in 2020.