The story of NPL

Poetry is the interplay of words, white space and voices, and history is similarly full of eloquence and gaps. There is no one perfect poem nor a single definitive history: what follows are a few key moments in the development of NPL.


The Paris Riots. Civil Rights. Leonard Cohen's Selected Poems. Allen Ginsberg at Morden Tower Debut collections from Maureen Duffy, Audre Lorde and James Fenton.

« The library was established in 1968, its aim to acquire and make available all contemporary poetry in English published in Great Britain. The collection was to be a free, open-access lending library and home for post-WWII poetry. » – Literature and Broadcast Arts Officer Nicholas Baumfield

Different voices

NPL celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1993 with a North East poetry festival. Featuring: a weekend of readings and discussion with Simon Armitage, Carol Ann Duffy, Sean O‘Brien, Liz Lochhead, Michael Donaghy, Peter Porter, Debjani Chatterjee, Terry Eagleton and many others; an exhibition in the library; a publication, Acknowledged Land by poet Linda France and artist Birtley Aris. Alistair Anderson was commissioned to write a new piece of music – Snowblind – to accompany a poem "Gin the Goodwife Stint" by North East poet Basil Bunting

Search & find

The cataloguing of NPL stock in the early 21st Century by poet Paul Batchelor meant that for the first time people could search for poetry books through the main library portal. Over the years, library staff have worked intimately with the books and its visitors, and now with the lead poet reveal some gems of the collection

The Flood: 2008

Paper and water are terrible bedfellows and in September the library perimeter was breached. Flooding devastated both building and books. The NPL's first-floor stock survived unscathed, however the priceless archive of poetry journals suffered losses, along with everything on the ground floor. Read remembering the flood

« I felt like I was saying goodbye to old friends. The silt-covered pages had a smell I can recall still, which reminded me of the beach when I went sea-coaling with my brother years ago – a sad, seaweedy-smell. » – Julie Brown, Library Assistant.

Now and to come

Each year, NPL lays down another layer in its story – a strata of golden years and challenges – as librarian Pat Hallam recalls And with new weather patterns in society and politics, storm clouds of a metaphorical kind now loom over public libraries across England. Today, the Northern Poetry Library is entering a new phase of its story, and with this project NPL is looking to the future.

With a library you are free, not confined by temporary political climates. It is the most democratic of institutions because no-one – but no-one at all – can tell you what to read and when and how. Doris Lesssing

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