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Wednesday 24 Sep 2014

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Poetry Season – coming soon to the BBC

Update – 12 & 26 May 2009: this press release has been updated to reflect new titles for some of the programmes in the season. For the latest information please see the BBC Poetry Season press pack.

Spring 2009 sees the launch of a landmark commitment to literature with a pan-BBC season dedicated to poetry.

Some of the nation's best loved poets and celebrities will take part in a season of content across television, radio and online exploring the far-reaching and compelling world of poetry.

Griff Rhys Jones launches the Poetry Season on BBC Two with a passionate plea about Why Poetry Matters – how verse has the power to move and why everybody needs it.

Also on BBC Two, My Life In Verse With... explores the rich terrain of British poetry from Milton to Shakespeare through the eyes of Malorie Blackman, Shelia Hancock, Cerys Mathews and Robert Webb; and Off By Heart follows primary school children across the country as they take part in a nationwide recitation competition, culminating in a grand final, compered by Jeremy Paxman.

BBC Four will feature a groundbreaking series A Poet's Guide To Britain presented by Owen Sheers, in which he explores six great works of poetry about the British landscape; and Ian Hislop welcomes the new Poet Laureate with an entertaining history of one of the oldest and, he argues, oddest offices in the British establishment.

Also on BBC Four, poet Simon Armitage goes in search of one of the jewels in the crown of British poetry, Sir Gawain, and historian Michael Wood returns to his first great love – the Anglo-Saxon world – to reveal the origins of our literary heritage in Michael Wood On Beowulf.

BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio 4 will mark the 200th anniversary of the birth of Alfred Lord Tennyson, while The Essay – A Laureate's Life, also on Radio 3, offers five personal takes on the role of Poet Laureate from around the world and Radio 4 will showcase its second Poetry Slam competition, following on from its hit 2007 contest.

Online activity will include a competition to elect the Nation's Favourite Poet which will be announced on National Poetry Day in early October; plus the Poetry Season's dedicated website will feature a poetry search engine to find poems for any occasion or mood.

George Entwistle, Controller, Knowledge Commissioning, BBC Vision, says: "The Poetry Season offers viewers an accessible and fascinating insight into verse; there really is something for everyone.

"The UK has a fine poetic tradition. We hope this season, the BBC's fantastic accompanying online offering, and the other initiatives with the likes of the Poetry Society will inspire and motivate people to reacquaint themselves with the poetry greats. In addition it may also inspire them to discover their own poetic voice."

The BBC is working closely with external partners on the season including the Poetry Society, the Poetry Archive and National Poetry Day.

The BBC Poetry Season will transmit from spring 2009. Further commissions to be announced at a later date and all titles may be subject to change. Highlights below and full programme information available nearer to transmission.

Poetry Season – Highlights


Why Poetry Matters – Griff Rhys Jones launches the BBC's poetry season with a passionate and personal plea about why poetry matters – how verse has the power to move, and why everybody needs it. Within this witty, stylish, high-impact hour, Griff makes the case that poetry is accessible, enjoyable and downright compelling.

Off By Heart – Learning by heart is the best way to experience a poem, but the method has fallen from favour as part of the educational system. To encourage primary school children to engage with poetry, BBC Learning has launched a new campaign, Off By Heart. Central to the BBC's Poetry Season, this national recitation competition continues in 2009 with BBC Two following children across the UK as they progress from regional heats to the grand final in Oxford, compered by Jeremy Paxman.

John Donne – Simon Schama celebrates the life and work of Britain's greatest love poet, John Donne. For Schama, Donne is the poet who transformed English poetry through his use of language and emotional honesty. With the help of academic John Carey, biographer John Stubbs and actor Fiona Shaw, he undertakes a passionate appraisal and forensic examination of Donne's work.

Armando Iannucci In Milton's Heaven and Hell – Armando Iannucci explores his passion for John Milton – a poet often considered too difficult or too obscure for today's reader. Preoccupied with ideas of sin, liberty and the fall of man, Milton may seem out of step with 21st century Britain but, as Iannucci explains, he has never been more relevant.

My Life In Verse With... – from Milton to Milligan, Shakespeare to John Cooper-Clarke, many people, without even realising, have fragments of poetry lodged in their brains. In My Life In Verse With..., some of the nation's best-loved celebrities, including Malorie Blackman, Sheila Hancock, Cerys Matthews and Robert Webb take a journey of discovery into the poems that inspired them.

Arena: T.S Eliot – Arena contributes to BBC Two's Poetry Season with a profile of T.S. Eliot which, with unprecedented co-operation from the Eliot Estate, tells the story of one of the 20th century's most celebrated and elusive writers.

BBC Four

Sir Gawain And The Green Knight – Poet Simon Armitage goes in search of one of the jewels in the crown of British poetry, Sir Gawain And The Green Knight, following in the footsteps of the poem's hero, Gawain, through some of Britain's most beautiful and mystical landscapes to discover more about the poet, his world and the stories that inspired the poem.

Ian Hislop's Changing Of The Bard – Ian Hislop welcomes the new Poet Laureate of 2009 with a history of one of the oldest and oddest offices in the British establishment.

Michael Wood On Beowulf – Historian Michael Wood returns to his first great love, the Anglo-Saxon world, to reveal the origins of our literary heritage. Focusing on Beowulf and drawing on other Anglo-Saxon classics he traces the birth of English poetry back to the Dark Ages. Travelling across the British Isles from East Anglia to Scotland – and with the help of Nobel prize-winning poet Seamus Heaney, actor Julian Glover, local historians and enthusiasts – he brings the story and language of this iconic poem to life.

A Poet's Guide To Britain – Owen Sheers examines six poems about the British landscape. The poems, including works by Wordsworth, Matthew Arnold, Lynette Roberts, Sylvia Plath, Louis MacNeice and George Mackay Brown, explore a sense of place and help define a collective understanding of identity and land.

The People's Poetry – 30 years of Poetry Please – Regularly attracting one million listeners, the world's longest-running poetry programme, Radio 4's Poetry Please, reaches its 30th anniversary. BBC Four pays tribute to the programme in a half-hour film.

Events and Online

BBC Learning is supporting the season with a host of events and online activity. These include:

A must-watch viral campaign combining the nation's favourite poems with the nation's favourite BBC personalities. A host of viral videos will be released during the Poetry Season with each viral featuring leading celebrities and BBC personalities reciting lines from some of Britain's best-loved poems. The viral campaign will begin with Kipling's If and will culminate with an online clip dedicated to the newly chosen nation's favourite poet.

A dedicated Poetry Season website which will serve as the destination for anyone wanting to learn more about poets and their work. Key features of the site include a poetry search engine, enabling users to discover poems based on themes and moods, an alternative guide to poetry appreciation, fronted by rising star, Caroline Bird, and links to BBC Poetry Season content, both current and gems from the BBC archives.

An online vote to determine the Nation's Favourite Poet. Compiled by the Poetry Society, a shortlist of Britain's finest poets will sit on the Poetry Season website. A host of online content helps visitors to the site discover more about the shortlisted candidates. The result of the Nation's Favourite Poet will be announced on National Poetry Day in early October.

Radio 3

The Essay – A Laureate's Life – As the UK prepares to change its Poet Laureate, five laureates from around the world offer their thoughts on laureateship, what it means to them and their personal experience of the role.

Sunday Feature – Children Of The Whitsun Weddings – Poets Kate Clanchy and Paul Farley take a train through "Larkinland" as they explore their mutual admiration for Philip Larkin's work.

Drama on 3 – Idylls Of The King – Radio 3 broadcasts a new adaptation by award-winning poet Michael Symmonds Roberts of Tennyson's epic poem which tells the story of King Arthur.

Sunday Feature – Searching For Alfred In The Shadow Of Tennyson – Ruth Padel, herself inspired by Tennyson, seeks out the real Alfred and asks why he has become such a lofty remote figure. Many of his poems have become figures of speech such as The Charge Of The Light Brigade and Crossing The Bar but, although he has passed into the lexicon, he seems to have passed out of our modern-day understanding, seen as an old style grandee with little contemporary relevance. Two hundred years after his birth Ruth investigates his legacy in art, film and music of all kinds and emphasises the surprising fact that Tennyson is a poet for our times as well as his own.

The Essay – Tennyson 200 – Marking the 200th anniversary of the birth of one of Britain's greatest poets, four contemporary British poets each choose a single poem or extract by Tennyson and give a personal account of why it means so much to them.

This content is in addition to Radio 3's ongoing speech output – Between The Ears, Night Waves, Sunday Feature, The Essay and The Verb, all of which prominently feature poetry.

Radio 4

Radio 4 will broadcast a series of programmes on Tennyson including an edition of Poetry Please featuring readings of his poetry and Great Lives which will explore Lord Tennyson's life and its impact. The series of programmes will also include a dramatisation of Tennyson's poem Maud, and Ulysses Revisited, presented by Sean O'Brien, will explore in detail Tennyson's great poem, Ulysses.

Poetry Slam 2009 – Radio 4 will be broadcasting its second Poetry Slam in early autumn 2009, bringing together some of the best and most popular spoken word performers from all around the country to battle it out for the title of Radio 4 Slam Winner 2009.

Lost Voices – Poet Brian Patten looks at four forgotten English poets; Rosemary Tonks, Dom Moraes, Harry Fainlight and W.H. Davies.


Poetry Pie – A huddle of children bake a magical pie from which emerges a series of funny and charming animated poems written for the CBeebies audience by popular contemporary poets. The poems are brought to life by a cast of animals to inspire the pre-school audience.


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