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'A unique and slightly mad effort': mapping Britain in poetry

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A national community arts project, where poems are matched to precise locations, is reinventing a 17th-century classic for the digital age

Pinned just west of Marsden, Yorkshire on a 17th-century map of the UK, is a poem by the UK’s new poet laureate, Simon Armitage. “The sky has delivered / its blank missive. / The moor in coma.” Move west, to the Isle of Man, and the poet is a little less well known – she’s dubbed herself Mrs Yorkshire the Baking Bard – but the sense of place is just as strong (and the rhymes are better, too): “I climbed Maughold Head as the morning sun rose / And the darkness surrendered to light / Where the buttery bloom of the golden gorse grows / And adventurous seabirds take flight.”

The poems – two of almost 2,000, and growing – are part of the Places of Poetry project, a community arts initiative where members of the public are invited to write poems and “pin” them on a digital map to the locations in England and Wales that inspired them. Inspired by Michael Drayton’s 17th-century poem Poly-Olbion, a 15,000-word poem on the topography of England and Wales, the project is being run by poet Paul Farley and Andrew McRae from the University of Exeter.

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