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Places of Poetry: Mapping poetry and heritage in England and Wales

17 September 2019

2 minutes to read

Places of Poetry: Mapping poetry and heritage in England and Wales

Members of the public are being encouraged to engage with poetry through a unique project that reconceptualises Michael Drayton’s 17th century poem Poly-Olbion in a digital format.

Drayton’s Poly-Olbion is a poetic journey which unveils the history and geography of England and Wales county by county in its 15,000 lines, and is accompanied by illustrated county maps by engraver William Hole.

The Places of Poetry project stemmed from Professor Andrew McRae’s and Professor Paul Farley’s research on this poem. It is a collaboration between the Universities of Exeter and Lancaster, Ordnance Survey and The Poetry Society, and encourages people of all ages and backgrounds to engage with places through writing a poem. Both amateur and professional poets can contribute to the project by pinning their poem on an online Places of Poetry map.

Value of poetry

Professor Andrew McRae from University of Exeter said: “At its heart is a simple effort to demonstrate the value of poetry as a way to engage people with thinking about places and their relationships with places.”

The two-layer digital map allows users to slide seamlessly between a map based on William Hole’s  distinctive cartography and detailed Ordnance Survey data.

Places of Poetry has 13 heritage partners, (including Stonehenge, The Roman Baths and The Kia Oval) who have benefited from a national programme of activities. They included a range of events and workshops to engage the community with heritage sites and what they mean to them through poetry. Each site also had a poet-in-residence who produced a poem.


The partners were carefully chosen to obtain a wide geographical range of locations, which raise questions of different kinds of heritage, such as religious, environmental and industrial.

The Poetry Society was able to reach out to its 4,500+ members and 210,000 social media followers as well as writing groups and schools to promote the project, which is aligned with their mission to push recognition and appreciation of poetry.

Julia Bird, Projects Manager at The Poetry Society said: “The Poetry Society’s association with the project means that we have been able to promote the poem-pinning and participative activities to our members and Stanza groups nationwide, which is of particular interest to us as a national but London-based organisation.

“We will be very keen to learn more about the numbers and locations of poems posted at the end of the project, and the details of how the poems are being read online.”

Accurate maps

The Places of Poetry mapping is underpinned by Ordnance Survey’s OS Maps API, access to which is part of Ordnance Survey’s project sponsorship. This has enabled the Places of Poetry project to benefit from Britain’s most detailed, maintained and accurate maps so that poems can be accurately pinned.

Nick Groome, Ordnance Survey External Research Manager, added: “It is great to be part of such an exciting project and especially pleasing to see Ordnance Survey mapping being used as the digital canvas for the amazing poems being submitted.”

The team have successfully built links with local and regional heritage organisations which will last beyond the project, such as the Exeter heritage partnership, who will welcome Places of Poetry’s participation in a 10 day programme of Heritage Open Days due to take place in Exeter in September.

On a national level, their involvement with National Poetry day gives the team a chance to celebrate all that they have achieved.

Places of Poetry is generously funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, and Arts Council England.


  • Arts and Humanities Research Council
  • National Lottery Heritage Fund
  • Arts Council England

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