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Return of the spoken word

Inspired by hip hop and Yeats, a new generation of performers is helping to revitalise poetry

By Tom Chatfield   May 2008

Poetry is a minority occupation in 21st-century Britain. A glance at the meagre, or non-existent, poetry shelf of most major bookshops confirms it. Serious verse is largely the province of academics, students and recipients of grants and residencies—those people, as Philip Larkin wryly noted, who are either paid to write or paying to read. Fewer than a million poetry books sell each year, compared to almost 50m novels; and fewer than half of these are written by living poets, among whom only a few regularly sell over 500 copies.

Yet shelves and sales are far from the whole story. In…

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