THE BRITISH LIBRARY

Living Knowledge blog

04 October 2018

Collections in Verse – bringing exhibitions to life through poetry

Claire Stone is Senior Creative Producer at Poet in the City, an arts organisation bringing poetry to life beyond books. In celebration of National Poetry Day, we caught up with Claire and shine a spotlight on Collections in Verse, which aims to take British Library exhibitions across the country through poetry.

Claire Stone, Senior Creative Producer, Poet in the City
Claire Stone, Senior Creative Producer, Poet in the City

Can you tell us more about Collections in Verse and what inspired this project?

Collections in Verse is a collaboration between the British Library, Poet in the City and public libraries in Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle, Reading and Exeter – all part of the Living Knowledge Network – to explore a new approach to touring exhibitions using poetry.

The partnership started in response to a challenge – the British Library has fantastic exhibitions but these are limited in the places they can tour due to the high levels of care the objects require – so how can we increase the reach of this amazing content, so that it can be enjoyed by more people?

Poet in the City had been using poetry commissions as a way to open up and explore heritage with a modern audience, with partners such as St Paul’s Cathedral and the Culture Mile. We find that poetry is an excellent medium for opening conversations – and wanted to know whether we could tour the content from British Library exhibitions through words and stories, rather than objects.

So for our first pilot with Leeds Libraries, we have commissioned three phenomenal poets of Caribbean heritage, living and working in Leeds to respond to the Windrush: Songs in a Strange Land exhibition currently on at the British Library, and help us create new poetry and events that tell the legacy of Windrush in Leeds today.

We would love to hear more about these poets.

Khadijah Ibrahiim, Malika Booker and Vahni Capildeo each bring a unique and beautiful style and approach to their work, which is a joy to work with. For example, Khadijah Ibrahiim is a fantastic community organiser and activity for her local city of Leeds, championing poetry and Caribbean culture in all its forms. Malika Booker and Vahni Capildeo have both been the Douglas Caster Fellow for Poetry at the University of Leeds, and bring their fantastic creative minds to bear on this project.

Collections in Verse poets Khadijah Ibrahiim, Malika Booker and Vahni Capildeo at the British Library’s Poets Circle
Collections in Verse poets Khadijah Ibrahiim, Malika Booker and Vahni Capildeo at the British Library's Poets Circle in St Pancras

Their research for this project takes them into the impact of Windrush women on the textiles industry in Yorkshire; our understanding of ‘Journeys’ – the everyday movements and relocations that make up our lives, and our senses of home; and music as a form of social commentary, from hymns and folk songs to Soundsystem culture.


Collections in Verse poet Khadijah Ibrahiim reading ROOTS RUNNIN II from her collection Another Crossing, honouring her great grandmother Tamar McLaren.

Windrush is a living and breathing part of their heritage, and we couldn’t ask for three better poets to have on board for this project – it’s a pleasure to work with each of them, and I can’t wait to see what they come up with!


Collections in Verse poet Malika Booker reading SALTFISH from her collection Pepper Seed, inspired by her mother’s work as a nurse in the UK.

What's coming up next for Collections in Verse?

We have just completed our first wave of community engagement in Leeds, and over the next six months we will be developing an ambitious programme of events to celebrate the commissions, including a Leeds Central Library takeover and pop-up performances and installations at the branch libraries in March 2019.

Looking ahead we are looking forward to setting up the second year of Collections in Verse projects, with our library partners and poets in Sheffield and Newcastle – who are responding to upcoming exhibitions at the British Library such as Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art, Word, War. We can’t wait to get started!

And just around the corner is our first sharing of our Leeds poets’ new material from their Windrush commissions at Ilkley Literature Festival on 10 October. We’re delighted to be sharing a platform with this fantastic festival of words in West Yorkshire.

How can people get involved in Collections in Verse?

Come to our events in Leeds! You can sign up to the Poet in the City mailing list to find out more about the project here; and we are always open to collaboration, so if you’d like to get in touch you are welcome to send me a message at claire@poetinthecity.co.uk to carry on the conversation.

It’s important that we shift the perception of public libraries as ‘static’ spaces for books only, to ‘live’ cultural spaces where you can make and experience new work. The libraries we are working with as part of the Living Knowledge Network are incredible and active services for their communities, and we want to help bring people closer to their local libraries, the British Library and to poetry. We hope the people who engage with this project will feel that public collections belong to and represent them. And if we can make libraries a home for live poetry along the way, all the better!

Content and Community Team