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Durham University

Centre for Poetry and Poetics

Durham Book Festival

“these six otters would fain
carry over the sandstone limen
and into Cuthbert's cell, a fish garlanded with bay leaves
and laid out on a linden-flitch ”

Paul Muldoon, 2013 Durham Book Festival poem

Durham Book Festival is the largest annual celebration of books and literature in the Northeast, with over fifty author talks, discussions, and workshops. Every year the Centre for Poetry and Poetics works closely with the Festival to organise readings and activities relating to poetry.

Festival Laureates

The Centre for Poetry and Poetics is responsible for bringing the Festival's poet laureate to Durham; for the duration of the Festival one of the country's top authors works with the public, university students, and schools. Past laureates include:

  • 2017 Andrew McMillan, whose debut collection physical was the first ever poetry collection to win The Guardian First Book Award.
  • 2016 Helen Mort, described by the poet laureate as 'among the brightest stars in the sparkling new constellation of young British poets'.
  • 2015 Sinéad Morrissey, recent winner of the T.S. Eliot prize for her fifth book
  • 2014 Paul Farley, author of four collections of poetry and winner of numerous awards
  • 2013 Paul Muldoon, Pulitzer prize-winner
  • 2012 Lorna Goodison, one of the finest Carribbean poets of her generation
  • 2011 Don Paterson, Scottish poet, writer and musician
  • 2010 Simon Armitage, English poet now serving as Oxford Professor of Poetry

Festival Poems

As well as participating in events, laureates are invited to compose a poem inspired by their time in Durham. Past poems that you can listen to online include:

  • Andrew McMillan, Coalfield Dementia. A poem that looked at how County Durham's towns and villages have responded to life after the pits.
  • Helen Mort, The Circle. This responded to the history of boxing in the North East and her own interest in the sport.
  • Sinéad Morrissey, Collier. A poem inspired by County Durham's mining heritage.
  • Paul Muldoon, Cuthbert and the Otters. First published in the Times Literary Supplement as a memoriam to Seamus Heaney, this long poem eventually formed the opening piece to his twelfth collection, One Thousand Things Worth Knowing.

Festival Podcasts

Each lareate performs at a major reading at the Festival, introduced by Centre director, Professor Stephen Regan. Recordings of readings by some past Festival laureates can be found below:

Festival Reviews

As part of our collaboration with Durham Book Festival, postgraduate researchers are invited to review Festival events, helping both to publicise the work of the Festival and to capture the excitement and interest surrounding its poetry readings and talks. Below are reviews of all Centre for Poetry and Poetics events at Durham Book Festival, published via READ: Research English At Durham.

Back to Back Poetry: Review of Michael O’Neill and Jamie McKendrick at Durham Book Festival

Michael O’Neill’s The Return of the Gift and Jamie McKendrick’s Anomaly are two compelling poetry collections. Though individual in style, both encapsulate the personal experiences that have shaped the mind of their authors. Aalia Ahmed and Lucia Scigliano attended their reflective reading at Durham Book Festival. Michael O’Neill’s reading incorporated a diverse selection from his...... Continue Reading →

(2 Nov 2018) » Back to Back Poetry: Review of Michael O’Neill and Jamie McKendrick at Durham Book Festival


Avians and Aviators: Review of Simon Armitage at Durham Book Festival

Simon Armitage describes himself as only an ‘occasional birder’, but his poetry is flocked with avian imagery and flighty themes. Dr Venetia Bridges spotted Armitage at Durham Book Festival, where he was appearing as part of our own Literary Birds conference. Although his main focus was poetry featuring birds, Simon Armitage’s reading at St Chad’s...... Continue Reading →

(30 Oct 2018) » Avians and Aviators: Review of Simon Armitage at Durham Book Festival


Lyrically Profound: Review of Keith James’ The Songs of Leonard Cohen at Durham Book Festival

Leonard Cohen may be best-known as a musician, but he was inspired by and wrote poetry too. Keith James’s intimate performance at Durham Book Festival drew songs and literature together, while bringing the audience – among them Emon Keshavarz – into tuneful chorus. The deeply spiritual aspects of Leonard Cohen’s life and the religious iconography...... Continue Reading →

(24 Oct 2018) » Lyrically Profound: Review of Keith James’ The Songs of Leonard Cohen at Durham Book Festival


The House that Jack Built: Review of Lamanby at Durham Book Festival

Lamanby is based on Jacob Polley’s award-winning poetry collection Jackself (2016) – but is definitely not a straightforward poetry reading. The written collection has morphed into a live event that mingles music, film, sound, and poetry into one enchanting, disorienting, and at times disturbing experience, as Hannah Piercy found when she watched, listened, and imagined...... Continue Reading →

(22 Oct 2018) » The House that Jack Built: Review of Lamanby at Durham Book Festival


Andrew McMillan performs his Durham Book Festival poem, ‘Coalfield Dementia’

Andrew McMillan was Durham Book Festival poet laureate in 2017. He performs a new poem, 'Coalfield Dementia', inspired by how towns and villages across the North East have come to terms with the aftermath of the pit closures. Communities are nostalgic for the past, but don't genuinely want to return to it; at the same...... Continue Reading →

(12 Jan 2018) » Andrew McMillan performs his Durham Book Festival poem, ‘Coalfield Dementia’


Universal and Eternal: Review of Discovering Dante at Durham Book Festival

Dante may have lived 700 years ago, but the epic poem he wrote, The Divine Comedy, lives on through later writers. Three speakers with expertise ranging from Romantic poetry to world literature to modern writing were able to demonstrate the range of Dante's influence at a Durham Book Festival talk. Lucia Scigliano-Suarez reviews. In his fictional journey...... Continue Reading →

(2 Nov 2017) » Universal and Eternal: Review of Discovering Dante at Durham Book Festival


A Living Library: Review of Discovering Dante, at Durham Book Festival

Dante's Divine Comedy tracks his journey from hell to heaven - but Dante has now arrived at a new destination in Durham, partly through a forthcoming exhibition at Palace Green Library, and also through a Durham Book Festival event on Discovering Dante, which explored the poet’s enduring influence on today’s art, literature, and culture around the world. Aalia...... Continue Reading →

(31 Oct 2017) » A Living Library: Review of Discovering Dante, at Durham Book Festival


Rich Seams: Review of the Northern Poetry Gala at Durham Book Festival

Defining the North is an always-provocative challenge, but poetry - with its attention to language and voice - provides a fine form through which to explore and celebrate the region's identity. This was one idea behind the Northern Poetry Gala at Durham Book Festival, which brought together several of the North's newest and exciting writers....... Continue Reading →

(18 Oct 2017) » Rich Seams: Review of the Northern Poetry Gala at Durham Book Festival


Our History Defines Us: Review of Sinéad Morrissey, Colette Bryce and Tara Bergin at Durham Book Festival

Ireland has produced some of the world's greatest poets over the years, but the Poetry Book Society brought three current, and female, Irish poets to the fore in a showcase at Durham Book Festival. Alison McManus was there to get a sense of how these recent writers fit into poetic and political history. ‘As a...... Continue Reading →

(11 Oct 2017) » Our History Defines Us: Review of Sinéad Morrissey, Colette Bryce and Tara Bergin at Durham Book Festival


Happy Symmetry: Review of Sinéad Morrissey, Colette Bryce, and Tara Bergin at Durham Book Festival

Sales of poetry books have been booming in recent years - not surprisingly given the wealth of innovative and inspiring work around. The Poetry Book Society showcased three remarkably 'strong voices' before a sellout crowd at Durham Book Festival, including our reviewer Suzannah V. Evans. Three chairs sat on a grassy stage; long lights hung like bright icicles...... Continue Reading →

(9 Oct 2017) » Happy Symmetry: Review of Sinéad Morrissey, Colette Bryce, and Tara Bergin at Durham Book Festival