Andrew Marr and BBC's Radio 4 to mark National Poetry Day with epic day of broadcasting

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Broadcaster and journalist Andrew Marr will mark National Poetry Day on Thursday 8 October this year by telling the story of Britain on BBC Radio 4 through its poetry, from the earliest verses written on the British Isles to some of the latest. We British: An Epic In Poetry will reflect and explore British history and identity through poetry, from the medieval church, the court of Henry VIII, the Civil War and Restoration to the Industrial Revolution, the slave trade, the Victorian Empire, mass immigration and the two world wars.

Throughout the day, the Radio 4 schedule will be interwoven with poetry readings, archive material, interviews and conversations. Marr will be joined by actors including Dominic West, Harriett Walter, Charles Dance, and Fiona Shaw, and poet, including Jacob Sam-La Rose, Gillian Clarke, Michael Rosen and Daljit Nagra, as well as members of the public.

Specific poems that are due to feature during the day include Walter Raleigh's ‘The Lie’, William Dunbar's ‘Lament for the Makars’ and Anne Askew's ‘Ballad from Newgate Gaol’.

Marr said: "If there is a single art which the people of these islands have excelled at, beyond all others, it is surely poetry. Poetry is the British art. Second, I've always thought there was a particularly intimate connection between poetry and radio – the murmur next to the ear, as it were. Ripping up Radio 4’s schedules for National Poetry Day seemed a rather bold and brilliant thing to do. Finally, however, a project like this needs a theme: I can't remember British history being told, in this way, through the directness of poetry. But if we want to get a real sense of what life was like in early medieval England, or how people felt about the plague or the fanaticism of the wars of religion; or the trauma of the slow decline of religion during the arrival of science, then the witness offered by great poetry is a very good way in. This was a project thought up by Radio 4, not by me, but I've been excited about it for more than a year now and I'm delighted to be playing my part."

Gwyneth Williams, controller of Radio 4, said: “What is it to be British? In this turbulent period of our history, as we respond to globalisation and live through the rise of the East, we at Radio 4 call out to our poets through the ages for guidance. We're thrilled to have Andrew Marr presenting as we turn to bards and chroniclers, ancient and modern, to reveal our identity. We ask our poets to tell the story of who we were; how we have become who we are; and finally, to show us what it now means to be British. I hope listeners will join me on this day to celebrate British poetry – the most beautiful and intimate of written records.”

We British: An Epic In Poetry will feature on Radio 4 from early morning and will end with Marr hosting a live poetry and music performance from 10.45pm. There will be around six hours of special, live programming in sections throughout the schedule, as well as poetry themes incorporated into normal programmes. More details 

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