History of The National Poetry Library

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The National Poetry Library is the largest public collection of modern poetry in the world.

Founded by the Arts Council in 1953 and opened by poets T.S. Eliot and Herbert Read, we have been at the heart of the nation’s poetry community ever since.

Due to its ever-growing collections, the library has had several homes, arriving at Southbank Centre in 1988 when Seamus Heaney led a cake cutting ceremony to mark its opening.

The National Poetry Library has been a place of inspiration and support for many esteemed poets and writers throughout its history.

Former Poet Laureate Ted Hughes wrote of his experience when researching the influential anthology Rattle Bag which he co-edited with Seamus Heaney: “This last week I was sitting every day in the poetry library at the Arts Council going through every book that showed any likelihood of producing a poem for the anthology … I was trekking for days through the densely packed Ys and the insuperably ranked Ws – going very birdlike over the tops of their heads for the most part … Very strange experience, squeezing every morning into modern poetry, and sitting there all curled up with book over mouth inhaling deeply, then coming out in the five or six o'clock dark onto Piccadilly again."

Philip Larkin, with perhaps uncharacteristic magnanimity, also spoke fondly of the collection:

The Poetry Library is one of the occasional pure flowerings of the imagination for which the English are so seldom given credit.

The National Poetry Library has nurtured generations of talented and much-loved poets and plans to do the same for years to come.