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Places of Poetry: A Poetry Map, by Sam Smith

Places of Poetry: A Poetry Map, by Sam Smith
6 Sep 2019


Original inspiration for this 2019 online map of poems was the poet, Michael Drayton, who published a 15,000-line epic of national description, Poly-Olbion (1612, 1622). Poly-Olbion also included a unique set of county and regional maps, by the engraver William Hole, upon which the new digital poetry map is based. Michel Drayton's poem itself used places as points of entry into historical narratives, building in the process an extraordinary national vision. The intent of the current compilers looks to make this 2019 online map even more extraordinary.


The brainchild of the poet Paul Farley and the academic Andrew McRae, the project for the online map is based at the universities of Exeter and Lancaster, and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, The National Lottery Heritage Fund and Arts Council England. It is underpinned by national partnerships with the Ordnance Survey, The Poetry Society, and National Poetry Day.


Poly-Olbion only described England and Wales. Most of it was written in the years after King James VI of Scotland was installed as James I of England, proclaiming a vision of a united island kingdom. Like many of James’s subjects, however, Drayton was unconvinced, and never fulfilled his stated intention to extend his poem into the land of King James’s birth. Places of Poetry follows Drayton’s model, and hopes to reflect in the process on the connections and tensions – then and now – between the constituent nations of the United Kingdom.


Any poet writing in English or Welsh – the editors have no competence in other languages -  can pin their poem on the place they choose on the map. Which has been the bit that I have enjoyed most – their ordnance survey is better than any of the maps in my house. But what I've found, especially with my Ilfracombe poems, is that prose poems don't work – the site software interprets prose as one long line. Also be aware that any Anglo-Saxon words will get flagged up and the editors will have the last word on whether that poem will find a place. The editors will also check for plagiarism.


Aside from the map there are 2 other things I've enjoyed about the whole process – revisiting old poems of mine and thinking back to places in England and Wales that I've lived/visited. I can't think of a downside to the enterprise, hugely recommend the pinning and placing to all who wish to participate. A bar on the right hand side of the map will allow you to do a search for other contributors' works. Or you can just take a wander over the country, chance upon a few old friends. But to have your work up there you had best hurry – you can only pin your work there up until end September 2019.  https://www.placesofpoetry.org.uk/


Not that the project abruptly ceases. There will follow readings in various of the locations...


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