UK Web Archive blog

15 April 2020

Adding Poetry Websites to the UK Web Archive

By Pete Hebden, Phd Student Placement, Newcastle University

One of the great features of the UK Web Archive is its series of curated collections, which can be found on the UKWA Topics and Themes page. Each collection centres on a specific topic, some responding to particular events, such as Brexit or the First World War Centenary, others drawing upon the knowledge of contributors to create a set of in-depth examples around a particular subject. During my time at the British Library, I spent some time contributing to the Poetry Zines and Journals collection, originally started in 2016 by previous PhD placement student Joe McCarthy. The collection contains an amazing range of UK-based online outlets for poetry, encompassing blogs, Twitter accounts, online journals, and the personal websites of some poets, where there is a significant amount of the poet’s creative work on the site.

Poetry writing
Poetry writing

 Although the collection was already very well curated when I came to it, it had not been significantly updated in several years, so many newer publications were not included in the collection. The past few years have seen a serious increase in the number of high-quality online literary journals – a trend that this collection was very astutely responding to when it was first created – and so there were a number of recent but well-established poetry titles that I could add to the list. One example is perverse, an online-only poetry journal started by the poet Chrissy Williams in 2018.

Along with roughly a third of the Poetry Zines and Journals collection, the archived version of perverse is only accessible on-site at the reading rooms of the UK’s legal deposit libraries. The rest of the content, for which open access permission has been obtained, can be viewed from anywhere. The Rialto and Porridge magazine are two examples of recently added sites that are open access, and the links here lead to the archived versions of those sites.

My other choices for inclusion in the collection were guided by some of my own specific areas of knowledge and interest. I included several online journals that are based in, or focus on, the north of England and Scotland, as these are literary scenes that I am more familiar with. Butcher’s Dog and Another North are two relatively recent literary journals based in the north of England. Another North is entirely digital, while Butcher’s Dog is a print journal with a strong online presence. I also added several more websites for print magazines that feature a significant amount of poetry on their site. For example, Popshot and The Rialto, both print magazines, regularly feature poetry from their most recent issues on their websites and/or social media, which gives readers an idea of the journal’s editorial policy and marks a significant change in the way that poetry is distributed by these publications thanks to the internet.

One interesting problem that I encountered during the process was around the formats that some digital publications use for distribution. While most online poetry journals choose to publish in a standard website or blog form, some distribute each issue as a downloadable file, such as a PDF or EPUB. This method of delivery presents a problem when attempting to archive the content, as the web crawler is not necessarily able to access and download these files, meaning that the poetry itself goes unrecorded. For these journals, we had to use alternative ways of recording their poetry in the collection. For example, perverse (mentioned above), as well as distributing each issue as a PDF download, also posts each poem individually to Twitter, and so we set up a regular capture of their Twitter account in order to record all of the poetry. Many other journals use social media in a similar way, and so in these cases I was able to use this as a way of archiving the journal’s output.

Over the past few decades, the web has provided an exciting platform for a diverse range of poets and publishers to showcase their work and it has been a very enjoyable challenge to contribute to the cataloguing of this transformation. I hope that my work on the Poetry Zines and Journals collection will help other readers and researchers exploring the breadth and variety of UK poetry available online today. 

If you know of any websites that should be included in this collection or in the general UK Web Archive, please nominate it.