Enchanted by Verse in the Chantry; One of the Region's Cultural Gems, the Northern Poetry Library, Is Building towards Its 50th Anniversary in 2018. David Whetstone Meets Two Poets Keen to Spread the Word

The Journal (Newcastle, England), November 29, 2016 | Go to article overview

Enchanted by Verse in the Chantry; One of the Region's Cultural Gems, the Northern Poetry Library, Is Building towards Its 50th Anniversary in 2018. David Whetstone Meets Two Poets Keen to Spread the Word


Not all the things that make the North East a cultural hotspot are big and in your face, like the Theatre Royal, Sage Gateshead, Temenos and The Angel of the North. Some of them you have to seek out.

A perfect example is the Northern Poetry Library.

There's no big flag outside proclaiming its presence - no giant sculpture of a poetry book or a verse by Seamus Heaney or Sylvia Plath in neon lights.

But as poet Lisa Matthews says: "Outside London, it is the biggest collection of contemporary poetry in England."

Here it is and here we sit - me and Lisa and Darlington poet Jo Colley - in a dedicated room at The Chantry in Morpeth with poetry books stacked on shelves around us.

It's not a huge room. Volumes of poetry tend to be quite slim. But there's a lot of stuff here and during our conversation quite a few people pop in, browse and leave with a book.

Poetry is probably more popular than you think.

See how people turn to it at important moments in their lives. See how many books are published by Bloodaxe, the dedicated poetry publisher - also the largest in the country - based in Hexham.

There was a sense that this regional (and also national and international) asset was a bit unsung.

"A lot of poets didn't even know it was here," says Lisa.

A project funded by Arts Council England set out to put that right, raising the profile of the library and developing a new and wider audience for contemporary poetry.

Six poets-in-residence were appointed to spread the word, with Lisa as lead poet along with Jo, John Challis, Linda France, Carolyn Jess-Cooke and Degna Stone.

Lisa, who used to work in the Newcastle library service and knows about intellectual property, has dedicated a lot of her time to the library, sorting through the collection and helping in the design of a new website.

I feel very you don't {kind of knowledge enjoyment "We all feel really passionate about poetry and so were happy to get out and talk about it. We had someone up in Berwick and someone in Blyth and we've also covered County Durham."

Neither Lisa nor Jo can shed much light on the origins of this impressive collection - around 15,000 volumes, they reckon, including a section for anthologies which is particularly useful for those seeking the right thing to read out at a wedding, a funeral or another special occasion.

In its present form, they know it has been in existence since 1968.

"But I think it did exist before," says Lisa. "I'm trying to track down where it started. I've heard a story from someone who worked at the council in the 1960s about a collection of poetry in the education section of the library."

The collection was based at Morpeth Library on Gas House Lane but that was closed due to central government cuts and an estimated repair bill for the 1960s building, after the floods that hit the town, of PS500,000.

strongly that need any the library collection. has been relocated to Royal Sovereign House in Morpeth - but the Northern Poetry Library instead went here, to The Chantry.

academic to get from poetry The famous Morpeth Chantry Bagpipe Museum is upstairs. That's another story - suffice to say that if you love poetry and the pipes, this is probably seventh heaven.

For Jo, the poetry collection makes a trip from Darlington to Morpeth worthwhile.

"The thing about this collection is there's a wealth of stuff from small presses and in pamphlet form," she enthuses.

"There's lots of weird and wonderful stuff from the 1970s that you just wouldn't get anywhere else. …

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