Studying Black British Poetry

This is the third in a series of four posts about using library collections for the study of black history, literature and culture, in Britain and abroad. We would love to hear your comments and questions about the posts: please tweet us @GCWLibrary, email us at, or tell us your thoughts in the comments section at the end of the post.

If you have been on the ground floor of the library in recent weeks, you may have seen the Library Snippets platform just opposite the enquires desk. Each week of October, the plinth has been hosting recordings of answers to commonly asked questions about the library, as well as poems by Black poets, accompanied by a transcript. We hope you have enjoyed the chance to stop and read or listen to these works.

If you would like to know how to find out more about the poems and poets, read on! This post will discuss how library resources can be used to study the lives and works of black British poets. In the first half, I will discuss how to find the work of a particular poet. In the second half of the post, I will discuss how to find scholarship, secondary readings, and references works about particular poets.

Finding a poet’s works

If you know the name of the poet whose work you are looking for, the easiest place to start is by searching for their name in our main collection. It can help to make sure the ‘find books’ radio button / option is selected, as in the picture above. The default search option, ‘find books and articles’, can sometimes present a large number of results.

If you cannot find a copy of the works of a poet you are studying, please use our More Books or interlibrary loans services to ask for the material you need. You can access both of these via the find tab on our main website.

Finding Scholarship on a Poet

There are a few different places to look if you are trying to find studies of a particular poet’s works. Your ‘find books’ search for collections of their poetry may turn up books about them or which have changes about them. You may also wish to do an advanced search in ‘find books and articles’ to search for studies of them and their work. A sample search can be seen below.

A sample search for articles on the poet and performer Grace Nichols


Literature Online, a database which combines the text of hundreds of thousands of literary works in English with criticism and reference resources, is a good first port of call. You can search for the name of a poet you are interested in and the author page for that person will connect you directly to poems and other texts by that author, literary criticism about their writing, and reference works such as their biography. You can access Literature Online from our A-Z list of databases, which you can find on our main page under the ‘find’ tab. As an example, here is the author page for Grace Nichols (1950-)

The library’s e-book databases may also be helpful here. You may want to look for the name of the poet you are interested in, or do more general keyword searches in Proquest E-book Central, a huge collection of e-books. This can be accessed from our A-Z list of databases, which you can find on our main page under the find tab.

Another one of our e-book collections, the Cambridge Companions Complete collection, contains some helpful volumes. The Cambridge Companions are a set of volumes offering introductions to key artists, philosophers, writers, topics and periods. You can access the Cambridge Companions via the databases A-Z located under the find tab on our main page. One of the topics featured is Black British writing, and searches for the name of the poets you are interested in or for general topics like ‘black British poetry’ will bring up volumes that may be useful to you, such as the The Cambridge Companion to British Black and Asian Literature.

If you are having any trouble finding material for your study of Black British poets, please do not hesitate to make an appointment with your academic subject librarian, who will be happy to help.