A tour of the Archive with

Monica Ali

On my initial visit to the Poetry Archive, the historical recordings caught my attention first. I did not know that recordings of Tennyson, for instance, existed. Although some of the following lines were a little indistinct, it was incredibly exciting to hear the opening lines of 'The Charge of the Light Brigade'. Afterwards, I explored the children's section with my kids, and they got all their poetry books out and searched for favourite poets. Then I spent time discovering poets who were new to me.

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The Negro Speaks of Rivers
by Langston Hughes
Hughes is one of my favourite poets but this was the first time I had heard his voice, which conveys both strength and emotion and makes the poem all the more moving. When you hear him say, 'my soul has grown deep like the rivers' you find a little catch in your throat.
The Dug-Out
by Siegfried Sassoon
Like many people, I 'did' Sassoon at school. How wonderful it would have been to listen to this back then. There's a tension in the juxtaposition of his clipped, upper-crust enunciation and the tortured compassion of the lines that is absolutely riveting.
Billy McBone
by Allan Ahlberg
'Billy McBone/Had a mind of his own/Which the teachers had searched for for years.' My children fell about laughing when they listened to this and several of Ahlberg's other poems. When I read them out, they don't raise the roof in quite the same way. I asked the children why and they agreed it was because 'he sounds like a teacher'.
by Paul Farley
I'd never come across Farley before and I was blown away by his work here. In this poem, we come 'face to face with history' through a tin of treacle, and see how 'a spoonful won't let go of its past.' It's funny and clever and original.
De Humani Corporis Fabrica
by John Burnside
This is an achingly beautiful poem, the type that provides a sanctuary from the working day. Burnside's recording blends notes of wonder and yearning but retains a kind of transparency through which the beauty of each word shines.
Two Lorries
by Seamus Heaney
You can browse for poems by form, and there are quite a few 'form' names of which I did not know the meaning. Kenning, for instance, or sestina. This is an example of a sestina. It's actually a very familiar form, as you'll see, and as always there's something innately pleasing in the very structure of the poem.

Monica Ali lives in London and was named in 2003 by Granta magazine as one of twenty 'Best of Young British Novelists'. Her first novel, 'Brick Lane', an epic saga about a Bangladeshi family living in the UK, was shortlisted for the 2003 Man Booker Prize for Fiction, and her second, 'Alentejo Blue', is published by Doubleday in June 2006.

Author photograph ©John Foley, Opale

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