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Last Updated: Wednesday, 14 December 2005, 09:22 GMT
Motion cheers online poem archive
Andrew Motion
Motion's 'dream recording' would be one of Thomas Hardy
UK Poet Laureate Andrew Motion has celebrated the successful start of the ambitious audio Poetry Online Archive.

Together with British recording producer Richard Carrington, Motion instigated the project, which aims to ensure that every significant Anglophone poet from anywhere in the world is captured reading their verse.

That recording is then put on the internet. The site launched earlier this month.

"It's really a colossal PR job for poetry," Motion told BBC World Service's The Word programme.

"I imagine we will end up with hundreds of poems on it."

Sense of a poem

The archive has recordings from the 19th century onwards, when recordings of poets reading their work were first created.

Although there are significant gaps - recordings of AE Housman, Thomas Hardy and DH Lawrence, for example, do not exist - Motion explained how the he felt the value of the site is highlighted in one of the older recordings, made in the 1932, of WB Yeats, which he described as "mesmeric".

"It makes the fundamental point about the value of the archive very clearly," he said.

"The Beowulf poet knew the meaning of a poem. He would have understand that it has as much to do with the sound that the poem makes as it has to do with the page sense that a poem has.

"But during the last 1,000 years the page sense has tended to dominate, for all sorts of obvious reasons.

"The Poetry Archive is in the very pleasant and somewhat paradoxical position to be able to say that the invention of this new thing, the internet, has allowed a very ancient truth about poetry to become manifest - which is that sound sense and page sense do have an equal value."

'Kind of emphasis'

Motion did, however, stress that a poet does not know everything about their own work, and it is important to bear this in mind when listening to them read.

Philip Larkin
Recordings have made Larkin's meanings clearer
But he also argued it is also true that a poet has a right to the work no-one else does.

"As we're listening to it, we understand things about the poem through the various pauses, pacings, inflexions, emphases and so on that the poet brings us during their reading," he said.

"It may even be that little local difficulties are cleared up by the kind of emphasis that they put."

One example has been Philip Larkin's Lines On A Young Lady's Photograph Album, a passage of which reads "But o, photography! as no art is / Faithful and disappointing!"

"I can remember looking at that and thinking, well, Larkin is not a difficult poet, but what does that mean? I couldn't understand it," Motion said.

"And you hear him reading it on the recordings that he made during his life, and he says it in his Eeyore-ish voice, you realise he didn't think photography is an art, and once you've grasped that then you understand the passage.

"There are passages in all sort of poems where that becomes important."

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