The BBC has long been a champion of poetry. The timeline we have created for this collection brings together a selection of the BBC's best-known poetry broadcasts and key moments in the story of poetry at the BBC.

Use the slider to explore the timeline and discover key milestones in poetry programming and broadcasting over the past 100 years and listen to the poems in their original BBC recordings.

You can also explore the collection in the full view here.

1920
1920 1945 1970 1995 2020
Poet

Sarah Maguire

B. 1957 D. 2017
Poet

John Ashbery

B. 1927 D. 2017
Poet

Basil Bunting

B. 1900 D. 1985
Poet

Geoffrey Hill

B. 1932 D. 2016
Poet

Maya Angelou

B. 1928 D. 2014
Poet

Seamus Heaney

B. 1939 D. 2013
Poet

Edwin Morgan

B. 1920 D. 2010
Poet

Thom Gunn

B. 1929 D. 2004
Poet

Bob Cobbing

B. 1920 D. 2002
Poet

Anne Sexton

B. 1928 D. 1974
Poet

Derek Walcott

B. 1930 D. 2017
Poet

Allen Ginsberg

B. 1926 D. 1997
Poet

Robert Creeley

B. 1926 D. 2005
Poet

Nissim Ezekiel

B. 1924 D. 2004
Poet

Marianne Moore

B. 1887 D. 1972
Poet

Jenny Joseph

B. 1932 D. 2018
Poet

Roy Fisher

B. 1930 D. 2017
Poet

Philip Larkin

B. 1922 D. 1985
Poet

Ted Hughes

B. 1930 D. 1998
Poet

Sylvia Plath

B. 1932 D. 1963
Poet

Robert Lowell

B. 1917 D. 1977
Poet

R. S. Thomas

B. 1913 D. 2000
Poet

W. S. Graham

B. 1918 D. 1986
Poet

Robert Frost

B. 1874 D. 1963
Poet

Edwin Muir

B. 1887 D. 1959
Poet

John Betjeman

B. 1906 D. 1984
Poet

Louis MacNeice

B. 1907 D. 1963
Poet

Edith Sitwell

B. 1887 D. 1964
Poet

Robert Graves

B. 1895 D. 1985
Poet

John Masefield

B. 1878 D. 1967
Poet

William Empson

B. 1906 D. 1984
Poet

Idris Davies

B. 1905 D. 1953
Poet

C. Day Lewis

B. 1904 D. 1972
Poet

David Jones

B. 1895 D. 1974
Poet

W. H. Auden

B. 1907 D. 1973
Poet

Stevie Smith

B. 1902 D. 1971
Poet

Dylan Thomas

B. 1914 D. 1953
Poet

E E Cummings

B. 1894 D. 1962
Poet

Ezra Pound

B. 1885 D. 1972
Poet

T. S. Eliot

B. 1888 D. 1965
Historic events

1922 - Year BBC was founded

The year that the BBC was founded as the British Broadcasting Company (it was renamed 'Corporation' in 1928) was also a famous year for modern literature. In the words of the poet Ezra Pound, 1922 was 'Year One of a new era', which saw the publication of both Joyce's Ulysses and T.S. Eliot's The Waste Land.

Historic events

1930 - John Masefield was made laureate

The new Poet Laureate, John Masefield, prophesied that radio could bring into existence a 'new poetry for the new audience'.

Historic events

1967 - John Masefield dies

John Masefield dies
At the time of his death, Masefield had lived long enough to hear compelling experiments with dramatisations of long poems, 'radiophonic' sound poems, and the beginnings of performance poetry, all of which have continued on the BBC in various forms to this day.

Historic events

1937 - George VI’s coronation

Poetry also found a place at the heart of public commemorations, from Masefield's ode on George VI's coronation in 1937, to the Armistice Day poems that the BBC commissioned in 2018 to mark a century since the end of the First World War.

Historic events

2018 - George VI’s coronation to commutate Armistice Day

Poetry also found a place at the heart of public commemorations, from Masefield's ode on George VI's coronation in 1937, to the Armistice Day poems that the BBC commissioned in 2018 to mark a century since the end of the First World War.

Historic events

1928 - John Drinkwater’s first read on the BBC

A classic of the ‘Georgian’ style of poetry fashionable in the previous decade, John Drinkwater’s ‘Moonlit Apples’, first read on the BBC in 1928.

Historic events

1929 - The BBC invites the Poet Laureate

The BBC invites the Poet Laureate, Robert Bridges, to give its first national lecture in 1929.

Historic events

1921 - Langston Hughes published ‘The Negro Speaks of Rivers’

Across the Atlantic, Langston Hughes published ‘The Negro Speaks of Rivers’ – a powerful expression of African-American pride that he would read on BBC radio in 1962 as the civil rights movement gathered momentum in the States.

Historic events

1925 - E.E. Cummings, read ‘next to god of course America I’

E.E. Cummings, reading ‘next to god of course America i’ (1925), from a satirical sequence on the involvement of the U.S. in the First World War, inspired by his own experiences.

Historic events

1929 - The soldier-poet Siegfried Sassoon read on the BBC.

The soldier-poet Siegfried Sassoon read on the B.B.C. in 1929, but here he is represented by a recording from the 1950s, reading ‘Everyone Sang’ (1919), his poem about the mass outbreak of joy at the Armistice in 1918.

Historic events

1960 - The Living Poet

The BBC began the new decade with a new format for poetry programmes. 'The Living Poet', which ran until the early 1990s, would feature a single poet giving a recital of their poems. In 1960, this was a radical departure from convention: most poems broadcast on the BBC were read by actors, and most programmes were anthologies bringing together poems by many different poets. 'The Living Poet' realised that poets, and poetry audiences, increasingly wanted not just the poet's words, but their voice.

Historic events

1960 - 'The New American Poetry'

Donald Allen's influential 1960 anthology of poets from the underground and avant-gardes is published, which would inspire a 'New Poetry Revival' in Britain later in the decade.

Historic events

1960 - Robert Creeley

A figurehead for the New American Poets, known for their fascination with breath and voice, Creeley blends modernist experimentation with the understated patterns of everyday speech.

Historic events

1965 - New technology

In Britain, poetic experiment was also inspired by new technology. Sound poets like Bob Cobbing explored the physical matter of the human voice: his ABC in Sound (1965) plays with the alphabet, while dissolving the boundaries of words and creating a new kind of sense. Meanwhile, in her 'radiophonic' work, Rosemary Tonks used all the gadgets available in BBC studios to create a vocal soundscape by turns eerie and joyous.

Historic events

1965 - Changes

As the decolonisation of the British Empire gathered pace, poets were transforming the language of the former coloniser to their own artistic ends.

Historic events

1932 - Empire Service launches

In 1932, the BBC launched its Empire Service (later the Overseas and then the World Service), which gave its radio programming a global reach.

Historic events

1936 - W.B. Yeats 18th National Lecture

In 1936 W.B. Yeats was invited by the BBC to give its 18th National Lecture, on the subject of ‘Modern Poetry’. During the broadcast he confessed that he disliked T.S. Eliot’s verse, but had ‘to admit its satiric intensity’, and acknowledge its influence on a new generation.

Historic events

1939 - 1945

World War II or the Second World War, often abbreviated as WWII or WW2, was a global war that lasted from 1939 to 1945. It involved the vast majority of the world's countries—including all of the great powers—forming two opposing military alliances: the Allies and the Axis powers.

Historic events

1941 - Renewed debate around poetry and war

The war renewed debate about poetry in public life. In 1941, the weekly BBC magazine The Listener asked Robert Graves (‘as a war poet’) to explain why the war had produced little great poetry so far. It was, Graves said, because it was a different kind of war. The army of 1941 was not the ‘amateur, desperate, happy-go-lucky, ragtime lousy army of 1914-18.’

Historic events

1950 - Post war decade

In 1950, the British literary magazine Nine asked its readers whether ‘the BBC and the literary periodicals are carrying out their responsibilities to poetry’. The readers replied that the BBC ‘should encourage more new poets’. The idea of the ‘new’ was a constant theme of the decade. Britain emerged from the war years with a desire for national renewal, expressed by the Festival of Britain in 1951, with its celebration of contemporary art, design and science.

Historic events

1970 - Greater diversity

In the 1970s, it discovered a far greater diversity of voices within the UK itself as 'BBC English' began to venture further beyond the rule-bound respectability of Received Pronunciation.

Historic events

1978 - National Poetry Competition launches

In 1978, the Poetry Society and the BBC launched the National Poetry Competition.

Historic events

1980 - Towards a Female Lyric

UK poetry had for too long been dominated by male voices, but now poets such as Grace Nichols, Wendy Cope and Selima Hill began to claim more space in lyric verse for female experience.

Historic events

2009 - First female Poet Laureate

In 2009, Carol Ann Duffy became the first female poet laureate.

Historic events

1990 - New Generation

The 1990s was a time of youthful self-confidence in British culture. The early years saw the rise of the Young British Artists, led by Damien Hirst, and the Britpop sound of bands like Blur, Pulp and Elastica. In 1994, a younger generation of UK poets – including Carol Ann Duffy, David Dabydeen and current Poet Laureate Simon Armitage -- were widely promoted across the BBC as a ‘New Generation’, as arts journalists debated whether poetry was ‘the new rock and roll’.

Historic events

2000 - New millennium

As a new millennium began, the BBC had become a significant force in the UK poetry culture. Not only did it give a platform to poets and introduce them to new audiences; now, it created festivals and residencies, and commissioned new work. The introduction of a new radio programme, The Verb, in April 2002, which continues to be presented by the poet Ian McMillan. Just as The Living Poet reflected the poetry culture of the 1960s, with the single author reciting their work, now The Verb, with its informal 'showcase' or 'word cabaret', placed poetry at the heart of innovations in literature and performance in order to imagine a more expansive idea of the 'poetic'.

Historic events

How the collection was made

BBC 100 Poets is the result of a collaboration between the School of Literature, Drama and Creative Writing, BBC History and the Poetry Archive. It began in 2019 with a successful application for a Collaborative Doctoral Award from the AHRC-funded CHASE Doctoral Training Partnership on 'Poetry Television Broadcasting at the BBC 1932--present'. BBC 100 Poets, however, focuses on the rich archive of modern poets who have read their work on BBC Radio.

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