A journey into the BBC archives unearthing glorious performances and candid interviews from some of Britain's greatest poets.


Kemi Majekodunmi


John Mullen (devised by)


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Episode credited cast:
Rebecca Front ... Self - Narrator (voice)
Rest of cast listed alphabetically:
Simon Armitage Simon Armitage ... Self - Poet
Sarah Churchwell Sarah Churchwell ... Self - Professor of American Literature
Gillian Clarke Gillian Clarke ... Self - National Poet of Wales
Wendy Cope Wendy Cope ... Self - Poet
Allen Ginsberg ... Self - Archive
Germaine Greer Germaine Greer ... Self - Critic
Seamus Heaney ... Self - Archive
Linton Kwesi Johnson Linton Kwesi Johnson ... Self - Poet (as Linton Kwasi Johnson)
Philip Larkin Philip Larkin ... Self - Archive
Liz Lochhead Liz Lochhead ... Self - National Poet of Scotland
Roger McGough Roger McGough ... Self - Archive
Blake Morrison Blake Morrison ... Self - Poet
Sylvia Plath ... Self - Archive
Michael Rosen Michael Rosen ... Self - Poet


In episode 2 "Access All Areas", English poetry becomes more democratic as poets like Philip Larkin turn away from the obscurity of modernism in favor of language and subject matter that reflect the feel of 50s Britain. American poets develop a raw confessional style, while in Britain poets reach out to new audiences - on television, in pubs, on the streets. Featuring the work of Philip Larkin, Anne Sexton, Sylvia Plath, Allen Ginsberg, Roger McGough, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Seamus Heaney. Written by Julian Birkett

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Fascinating Yet Tantalizing Glimpse of the Work of Great Poets
26 August 2014 | by l_rawjalaurenceSee all my reviews

In the second program in the two-part series GREAT POETS IN THEIR OWN WORDS, the roll-call of artists includes Philip Larkin, John Berryman, Ted Hughes, Anne Sexton, the Liverpool Poets (including Roger McGough), Allen Ginsberg and Seamus Heaney. Critical commentaries are supplied by John Mullan, Blake Morrison, Germaine Greer and Wendy Cope (among others). As in the first program, we might be tempted to disagree with many of the critical judgments passed (the implication that Larkin is somehow imprisoned by his social background and/or preoccupations is particularly contentious), but we should nonetheless welcome the chance to see the artists either reading their own work or talking about it. Larkin's rendition of his poem "Church-Going" from the mid-Sixties is particularly memorable. In this period some poets - particularly Ginsberg - were out to shock, either by saying offensive things on television or performing in exaggerated fashion to huge audiences. Throughout his long career, McGough has also established a reputation for reading his work out loud (as well as presenting Radio 4's POETRY PLEASE). He also admitted in interview that he was inspired by American poets like Ginsberg, who set forth new possibilities for poetry and its potential. Sometimes the poetry readings in this program defied any attempts by the critics to categorize them; this seemed particularly true of Sylvia Plath. Although she never appeared on television, there are sound recordings of her reading her own work, which was both powerful yet painfully personal. The same could also be said of Anne Sexton and John Berryman, two highly talented American poets who both committed suicide in the early Seventies. Although poetry provided them with a means to deal with mental illness, the stress of coping with the stresses of life proved too much for them. Nonetheless, their work - as read out loud in unique television recordings - underlined the power of poetry as a means of dealing with personal traumas. The only snag about this fascinating program is that it left me wanting to know more about the individual poets, their lives and their work. Perhaps the BBC might consider commissioning a spin-off series of profiles.

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17 August 2014 (UK) See more »

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