South Bank London

National Poetry Library

Based at Southbank Centre, this is the largest public collection of modern poetry in the world.

Opening Hours

Tue: 12pm–6pm 
Wed–Sun: 12pm–8pm
Closed Mon

Contact Info

The National Poetry Library, London, UK
020 7921 0943

Based at Southbank Centre, this is the largest public collection of modern poetry in the world.

Founded by the Arts Council in 1953 and opened by poets T.S. Eliot and Herbert Read, the library has been at the heart of Britain’s poetry community ever since. In 1988 the ever-expanding collection moved to its current home at the Southbank Centre, with the poet Seamus Heaney leading a cake-cutting ceremony to mark its opening.

Throughout the decades the library has been a place of inspiration and support for many esteemed poets. Former Poet Laureate Ted Hughes wrote ecstatically of his experience of spending time researching in the library stacks while Philip Larkin also spoke fondly of the collection writing that “the Poetry Library is one of the occasional pure flowerings of the imagination for which the English are so seldom given credit”.

Located on the 5th floor of the Royal Festival Hall at Southbank Centre, the library encompasses more than 200,000 items and aims to hold all contemporary poetry collections published since 1912. The library also contains audio and video materials, critical texts and works for children for loan and reference and has a super collection of magazines from across the world.

The library hosts regular free exhibitions themed around poets and poetry and on Friday mornings there’s Rug Rhymes, a half-hour poetry and rhyme reading session created for under 5s and their carers (note this is always a popular event and advance booking is required).

If there is something specific you are looking for – whether a poem for a special occasion or a quotation from a poem that you are trying to track – it is well worth getting in touch with the knowledgeable librarian team for some advice. The library keeps a running list of frequently asked for 'lost' quotations that for some reason have come up time and time again. This service is also available online and each year the librarians field up to 17,000 queries from people searching for poems!

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