The name William Shakespeare conjures up ideas of genius and prolificacy; but in the first lecture of the second term at a London university, two-hundred Bard-idolising students had their hearts broken by a music video: a music video of sonnet 18, with eye make-up and electric guitars.

Poetry, through the ages, has seemingly lost its standing in society – it has reached the point where “rock” Shakespeare parodies may be the closest to poetry our youth culture is able to reach. Thankfully, a poetic renaissance has already started. A notable champion of this is the music of nu-folk.

Poetry and Music

Poetry has always run parallel to musical culture and has managed to seamlessly associate itself with all genres of musicians. Many big names in music can be linked to poetry – Jim Morrison of The Doors, who self-published two volumes of his own poetry and was known for his unselfish fusing of poetry and rock music, even reading his poetry during his concerts and professionally recording it. There are also artists like Leonard Cohen, who was himself a world-renowned, award-winning poet before turning to music later on in his career. Some musicians, despite their cultural success in the music world, should be known as poets turned musicians, rather than the contrary. 

Last year saw the rise of the nu-folk revolution, and with this came a new age of young poet-musicians and a new age of appreciation for the written, romantic word. Boasting the likes of Mumford and Sons, Laura Marling, Noah and the Whale and Fleet Foxes, this wave of poetic folk has already revived a modern love for verse.

…Poetry stages are intriguing and inspiring young festival goers…

Examples of the crossover between folk and poetry include the Shakespeare inspired lyrics of Mumford and Sons’ album (most notably title-song Sigh No More, which quotes directly from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing) and the third studio album from Noah and the Whale, Last Night on Earth, which acknowledges the collection of poetry The Last Night of the Earth by Charles Bukowski.  

More Than Influence

It is not only influences that poetry provides, the practice of it has well and truly become entwined with modern music. The folk singer, Shakespearean actor and established poet Johnny Flynn, has begun to publicise his poetry alongside his music. Released together with his vinyl single Barnacled Warship, Flynn’s poetry is not only opening up a whole new audience to the world of poetry, but is in itself becoming a selling point for his records.

The rebirth of poetry means that poets are no longer simply writing and performing for each other, but for the public. The increased popularity and publicity of poetry stages at big British music festivals has meant that they are now becoming selling points in themselves, and are no longer mere passing points of interest for those who fancy some quick culture. Poetry at festivals has grown in popularity rapidly over the last 20 years, and now, as they are intriguing and inspiring young festival goers more than ever, poetry can be seen to be once again becoming part of our youth culture.

…modern poets are bringing beauty, sincerity and most importantly a lack of eye make-up back into poetic expression…

Folk-rock legend Bob Dylan once said that “a poem is a naked person…some people say that I am a poet.” These modern musicians and poets, the young Romantics of the 21st Century, are bringing beauty, sincerity and most importantly a lack of eye make-up and in-your-face musical sonnets back into poetic expression. Stripping the boundaries of creative expression, they are bringing the love of poetry back into society.


Poetry at Festivals

Here are a few of the many festivals that include established and up-and-coming poetry stages and events this year: 

Latitude Festival – Poetry Arena

Camp Bestival – East Lulworth Literary Institute

Green Man Festival – Literature Tent

Reading + Leeds Festival – Alternative Stage


Poetry in London

There are also many places in London to hear the new talent of professional and amateur poets on stage at specific poetry nights:

The Poetry Cafe – Betterton Street, Covent Garden

Open Monday to Saturday. Poetry readings most nights.

The Troubadour – Old Brompton Road, South Kensington

Regular night organised by Coffee House Poetry.

The Roebuck – Great Dover Street, Camberwell

Bang Said the Gun: highly acclaimed weekly poetry night held every Thursday.

Rich Mix – Bethnal Green Road, Shoreditch

Regular spoken word events, including open-mic nights.


Images courtesy of Gabriel de Urioste, Johnny Flynn and Leonard Cohen


About The Author

Josh is an English and Creative Writing graduate from Royal Holloway University of London. He writes plays, presents radio, draws comics and listens to folk music.

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