London’s Southbank Centre, that much-criticized ’60s New Brutalist monument on the River Thames, is also the city’s cultural Mecca, and houses the Saison Poetry Library, “described by Radio 4 as ‘one of the great libraries of the world’,” currently located at the rear of the fifth floor of the Royal Festival Hall.

New Festival Wing plans for the wholesale refurbishment of the site and the relocation of the Library to a specially-designed room, to be combined with a spoken-word venue into a new National Literature Centre.

I spoke to Southbank Centre press officer Katie Toms about the plans.

 London's Southbank Festival Wing

TeleRead: How significant is the Poetry Library in the South Bank to British poetry?

Katie Toms: Southbank Centre’s Saison Poetry Library is the biggest collection of contemporary poetry in the UK. The library holds over 200,000 items and aims to collect two copies of all UK poetry publications since 1912. It currently welcomes around 2,000 visitors a month, with over 5,000 members.

TeleRead: What could a more accessible, expanded, and enhanced Poetry Library achieve?

Katie Toms: Raise the awareness of poetry through the increased visibility of the Poetry Library as well as through increased activity and increased membership. We aim to increase the amount of poetry and other works held in the library. The new Poetry Library will include a significant increase in space for public use. Another part of the Festival Wing development will include a new Children and Families Centre, which will include the children’s poetry collection currently held in Southbank Centre’s Saison Poetry Library.

TeleRead: Is it true that the refurbished Festival Wing would contain “the first ever national centre for literature and the spoken word”?

Katie Toms: Southbank Centre will create a National Centre for Literature which will expand on our successful year-round live literature programme, by giving voice to spoken word in a new space where poetry, performance and opinion will meet.

TeleRead: How feasible is the Festival Wing project in the light of the latest Spending Review?

Katie Toms: We’re committed to this project and have a proven funding strategy (through a mix of public funding, fundraising, commercial income and making best use of our assets) with the recent Royal Festival Hall transformation.


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