Poems in Progress

Alexandra Ault, Laura Walker


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British Library Publishing
30 September 2022
ISBN: 9780712354660
288 pages

From the publisher

Ask two poets what their first drafts look like, and you’ll get wildly different answers. From typed pages with delicate annotation to hasty scribbles in a dog-eared notebook, drafts can tell us so much more about poems – and their poets – than their final, published versions.

Diverse themes including love, inequality, and the natural world bring together some of the most culturally significant and emotionally affecting poems in the British Library’s collections and beyond. These carefully selected drafts are written on materials ranging from school exercise books to mulberry bark to Holloway prison toilet paper. They include not only English and American poetry, but also drafts in Amharic, Chinese, Dutch, French, German, Japanese, Persian, Thai and Sanskrit.

Expert commentary explains the provenance of the manuscripts, as well as the secrets they reveal about the writing process. Previously unpublished early drafts by practising poets including Benjamin Zephaniah, Simon Armitage, Pascale Petit and Hollie McNish are accompanied by new reflections from the poets themselves on their inspiration and craft.

Alexandra Ault is Lead Curator of Modern Archives and Manuscripts 1601–1850 at the British Library.

Laura Walker is Lead Curator of Modern Archives and Manuscripts 1850–1950 at the British Library.

Featured poets include: Oscar Wilde, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, John Betjeman, W. B. Yeats, Maya Angelou, Fujiwara no Teika, Emily Dickinson, Ted Hughes, T. S. Eliot, Christina Rossetti, Seamus Heaney, Rudyard Kipling, James Berry, Robert Burns, Sylvia Plath.