British Library's poetry queen opens arms to the nation

The organiser of the British Library s popular poetry readings is now making the experience available to all, writes Bridget Galton JOSEPHINE Hart s poetry readings at the British Library have become hotly anticipated events – selling out in a matter of

The organiser of the British Library's popular poetry readings is now making the experience available to all, writes Bridget Galton

JOSEPHINE Hart's poetry readings at the British Library have become hotly anticipated events - selling out in a matter of hours.

Over the years, poetry fans have crowded into the Euston Road venue to enjoy such gems as Bob Geldof reading Yeats, Roger Moore reciting Kipling and Harold Pinter performing Larkin.

Hart is delighted that thousands more have been able to enjoy the events with the help of a book - Catching Life By The Throat, with accompanying CD recorded at the British Library events.

The Irish-born novelist started organising poetry readings more than 20 years ago at a small gallery in Cork Street

"I could never understand why there were no readings of great poetry in England - it seemed bizarre," she says.

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"Britain has produced the greatest poets in the English language but there was no public reading. It seemed society had killed the concept of speaking poetry out loud."

To help boost the profile of her events, she asked famous writers and performers to read the poems.

The late Alan Bates was among the first to agreed to appear for free.

"Where I got the courage from I don't know. But I just asked these great actors and to my astonishment they said yes. They all do it for no money and no expenses," says Hart, who donates profits from the events to The Actors Centre.

The British Library has provided a permanent home for the events since 2003.

"It's a perfect venue and it's been a great happy success for

us all."

Hart introduces the writers and speakers and picks the programme.

She believes framing the poetry with an understanding of the life and philosophy of the writer illuminates the work and makes the experience of hearing the poetry more intense.

She is an advocate of the "auditory imagination" and talks of the "trinity of sound, sense and sensibility" that makes great poetry.

"Poetry is at its most powerful when you hear it. That doesn't mean it isn't an extraordinarily powerful experience to sit and read it yourself. But all the great poets believed passionately that it should be spoken out loud.

"Auden said the test of a good poem was whether it was better read aloud. And Seamus Heaney said he couldn't 'get' Eliot's Four Quartets until he heard an actor reading it - what had been opaque on the page suddenly came alive."

For the book, she has written a foreword and introductions to each poet, including Auden, Dickinson, Eliot and Plath.

Feedback from schools up and down the country has been excellent with teachers thanking Hart for making literature more accessible to their pupils.

Hart believes learning about the different philosophy, psychological and spiritual position of the poets can teach youngsters lessons in life, as they describe both joy and despair.

"It has evolved in a rather miraculous way and it's a dream come true for us all," she says.

The only downside is that Hart, whose novels include Damage, Sin and Oblivion, has put her own writing on hold.

The mother of two grown-up sons, who lives in central London with advertising guru Maurice Saatchi, hopes to finish off her latest novel this year.

"It's about memory and what we do with it. It's a moral arena not just in terms of our personal use of memory but the collective use of it."

The next events are scheduled for February 20 on the poetry of Emily Dickinson and Marianne Moore, and March 29 for work by WH Auden.

Future plans include the poems of Thomas Hardy, Coleridge's The Rime Of The Ancient Mariner and Wilde's The Ballad Of Reading Gaol.

Catching Life By The Throat is published by Virago priced £15.

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