Wednesday 24 Sep 2014
TS Eliot is voted the Nation's favourite poet, beating John Donne, Benjamin Zephaniah, Sylvia Plath, Christina Rossetti and many more in a BBC poll, the results of which are released today to celebrate National Poetry Day.
The votes have been cast in an online poll, launched as part of the BBC Poetry Season.
An in-depth poetry website – bbc.co.uk/poetryseason – featured 30 great poets with gems from the BBC Archive, full text of key works and biographical information.
It also featured celebrities, including John Sergeant and Alex James, championing their poet of choice.
Audiences were invited to discover or rediscover these poets and vote for their favourite.
TS Eliot won the poll in a tight final, narrowly pipping John Donne at the post. He in turn was closely followed by Benjamin Zephaniah.
The top 10 poets in order are: TS Eliot, John Donne, Benjamin Zephaniah, Wilfred Owen, Philip Larkin, William Blake, William Butler Yeats, John Betjeman, John Keats and Dylan Thomas.
Alan Yentob, Creative Director of the BBC and the TS Eliot champion, said: "I'm delighted that TS Eliot has topped the poll for the Nation's Favourite Poet.
"I have been an admirer of Eliot's poetry since I was a child... I was bowled over by one of his early poems, The Love Song Of J Alfred Prufrock.
"It's been rewarding and exhilarating for all of us at the BBC to be able to share a love of poetry with such a wide audience thanks to the great success of the recent poetry season and the enthusiastic public participation in this poll.
"While the results demonstrate a growing interest in contemporary poetry, it's good to see that the classic texts still hold a strong place in people's affections."
TS Eliot was arguably the 20th century's most important poet. He scandalised the literary establishment with the deconstructive The Love Song Of J Alfred Prufrock and captured the post-war sense of loss in his poem The Waste Land.
Born Thomas Stearns Eliot in St Louis, Missouri in 1888, Eliot studied at Harvard and went on to teach at Oxford, and though he did not stay at the university for more than a year, England became his home for the rest of his life.
In London, he met the poet Ezra Pound, and both poets took starring roles in the Modernist movement.
On the eve of war, in 1939, he produced Old Possum's Book Of Practical Cats – the inspiration for the enormously successful musical Cats.
During the war the poems East Coker, Burnt Norton, Dry Salvages and Little Gidding were published under the mantle of Four Quartets, Eliot's philosophical meditation on the nature of time, language and history – it is perhaps Eliot's most enduring masterpiece.
He died in 1965 and was buried in East Coker, the same English village from where his family had migrated to America in the 17th century.
His second wife, Valerie, founded Britain's leading contemporary poetry prize, the TS Eliot Prize, in his honour.
The BBC is showing two documentaries about TS Eliot on National Poetry Day: Arena: TS Eliot on BBC Four at 10.20pm, and My Life In Verse with Robert Webb on BBC Two at 11.50pm.
The list of 30 poets was chosen by a panel of esteemed poetry experts: Judith Palmer, Director of The Poetry Society; Professor John Sutherland, Booker Prize Chair of Judges 2005 and Emeritus Lord Northcliffe Professor of Modern English Literature at UCL; Daisy Goodwin, editor of poetry anthologies; and Antonia Byatt, Director of The Arts Council England.
The 16th National Poetry Day is celebrated today, Thursday 8 October 2009, with the theme heroes and heroines – www.nationalpoetryday.co.uk.
The 30 poets shortlisted for the vote were: Simon Armitage, WH Auden, John Betjeman, William Blake, Robert Browning, Robert Burns, Lord Byron, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Wendy Cope, John Donne, Carol Ann Duffy, TS Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Seamus Heaney, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Ted Hughes, John Keats, Rudyard Kipling, Philip Larkin, Roger McGough, John Milton, Wilfred Owen, Sylvia Plath, Christina Rossetti, Stevie Smith, Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Dylan Thomas, William Wordsworth, WB Yeats and Benjamin Zephaniah.
The bbc.co.uk/poetryseason site was commissioned as part of the BBC's Poetry Season running on BBC Two, BBC Four, BBC Radio 1, BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio 4, with outreach activity with BBC Learning over the summer.
Broadcast on National Poetry Day:
Arena: TS Eliot, BBC Four, 10.20pm
My Life In Verse with Robert Webb, BBC Two, 11.50pm
BBC Poetry Slam Final, BBC Radio 4, 11.00pm.
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