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Bloodaxe archive inspires new generation of creative work


A new website brings the Bloodaxe Books archive to life and has inspired a new body of work.

When, in 2013, Newcastle University acquired the archive of Bloodaxe Books, it might have been simply that: an archive, carefully catalogued and boxed, sitting on the shelves of the University library, to be consulted by critics and scholars.

But funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) has enabled the archive to be brought to life through a new website, which brings together published works, readings, interviews with some of the world-famous poets Bloodaxe brought to the fore, as well as selected digitised proofs and marginalia.

Over the last 18 months, as part of ‘The Poetics of the Archive’ project, a community of 35 artists visited the archive while it was being catalogued. These were poets, writers, artists, filmmakers and photographers who might not ordinarily look to archives for their inspiration. Their brief was to tell the research team about their experience of the archive, and to write or make something out of their visits.

The result is a new body of work: poems that explore corrections or mistakes in the proofs, and reveal the process of creativity. The material of the archive, the paper, the envelopes, the odd squiggle, was also inspiration for some and there are a range of approaches and forms:  books made from the papers the archivist discarded, films about memory, music composed to evoke the landscape and atmosphere of a poet’s work.

According to Professor Linda Anderson, from Newcastle University’s Centre for Literary Arts, who has led the project, working across different approaches to the archive has worked really well: “Once you begin to envisage different ways of digitally displaying materials, you begin to open up potential new ways to use them. By browsing through the archive, making accidental associations and connections, you give it a whole new lease of life in ways that are not simply functional, but which are evocative and pleasurable in themselves,” she says. 

In addition to the poems, readings and interviews, the new website allows visitors to browse and search through the titles and covers of the collections, significant words and even the shapes the poems make on the page. It also includes the creative and critical work of the researchers, as well as the cornucopia of new work created by the project’s participants.

Bloodaxe Books was set up nearly 40 years ago, by Newcastle University graduate Neil Astley, and quickly built a reputation as one of the most important contemporary poetry publishers in the world. The collection, held by the University’s Robinson Library,  is a ‘living archive’ which means the University will receive a new section of the archive each year, for as long as Bloodaxe continues to publish.

Prof Anderson continued: “We wanted to create a resource which would try to do justice to the creative significance of Bloodaxe and what it has done to make poetry more accessible. Many people began to read contemporary poetry and enjoy it because of Bloodaxe.”

University archivist Ian Johnson said: ‘This website is the benchmark for all future projects involving archival collections’.

The website goes live this week and will be followed the first ever Newcastle Poetry Festival, which takes place 19 -21 March and will feature the creative responses to the Bloodaxe Archive from participants in the Poetics of the Archive project.

The research team, led by Linda Anderson, includes two poets Colette Bryce and Ahren Warner, filmmaker Kate Sweeney, photographer Phyllis Christopher, artists Irene Brown and Alan Turnbull, archivist Rebecca Bradley, digital assistant Kimberley Gaiger and digital artist Tom Schofield who created the digital interfaces and designed the website with advice from Mitchell Whitelaw.

Pictured: Linda Anderson with the Bloodaxe Books archive.

published on: 11 March 2015