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Simon Armitage (1963-) is known for his distinctly northern British vernacular and deadpan delivery. The author of over ten collections of verse, several plays, two novels, three nonfiction works, and numerous writings for television and radio, Armitage - a probation officer before he turned to poetry - is also a professor of poetry at England’s Sheffield University. Armitage was named Great Britain’s “Millennial Poet”- an office that involved travel to different places around the country to observe how these regions had spent the money that was disbursed through the New Millennium Experience Company. He also worked to spread the appreciation of poetry throughout the population. (Adapted from: “Simon Armitage.” Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2017).
Wystan Hugh Auden (1907-1973) was a major English poet, probably the most important English-speaking poet born in the 20th century. Noted especially for native lyrical gifts and highly developed technical expertise, he also displayed wide reading and acute intelligence in his poems. His life, about which a great deal of detail has come to light in the last two or three years, contains sharp contradictions. His early poems were praised for their political pertinency as well as their aesthetic modernity, and his later poems were condemned for their religious and political orthodoxy. Even when he had embraced certain kinds of religious orthodoxy, he continued to live what in many ways was an eccentrically bohemian life; but even in his most revolutionary, his most bohemian, or his least sober moments, he maintained a steady and highly productive work schedule, exemplifying if not always honoring the work ethic of the middle class. (Adapted from: Johnson, Richard. “W(ystan) H(ugh) Auden.” British Poets, 1914-1945, edited by Donald E. Stanford, Gale, 1983).
Carol Ann Duffy (1955-) and her work are remarkable on a variety of fronts. Duffy has been the poet laureate of Great Britain since 2009, and her appointment to the position is especially notable as she is the first woman, the first Scot, and the first openly gay person to occupy the distinguished role. All of these firsts are particularly suggestive given that she is also the first British poet laureate of the twenty-first century. Her selection strongly indicates a new direction for British poetry, whose history has long been dominated by male writers possessing elite educational backgrounds and typically associated with conservative poetic traditions. Her simultaneous critical and popular appeal highlights another feature of the poet’s work—its contradictions, which have generated varied critical interpretations of work. However, these contradictions also enable Duffy and her poetry to act as bridge between diverse poetic audiences, high and popular culture, the personal and the political, and, most significantly, Great Britain’s poetic past and its future. (Adapted from: Parmar, Nissa. “Duffy, Ann Carol (1955–).” British Writers, Supplement 18, edited by Jay Parini, vol. 18, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2012).
Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) was an Irish poet known for his regional themes and sensibilities. Much of his work reflects his upbringing in an atmosphere of deeply divided political and religious beliefs. He became widely recognized in the 1960s as a founding member of the “Northern School” of Irish letters and is acknowledged as one of the most popular and admired poets of modern times. Heaney has enjoyed critical acclaim since the publication of Death of a Naturalist, which was praised for the poet’s deft use of allusion and respect for things past. Heaney has been lauded for his use of the natural places of his youth to address the strife between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. Critics have consistently observed Heaney’s use of language to evoke history and place. He gained widespread attention after his third and fourth books, and became a notable influence on other poets. (Adapted from: “Seamus Heaney.” Contemporary Literary Criticism, edited by Jeffrey W. Hunter, vol. 309, Gale, 2011).
Named Poet Laureate of England in 1984, Ted Hughes (1930-1998) is a versatile poet who is perhaps best known for creating powerful poems that feature bold metaphors and resonant language, imagery, and speech rhythms. He often comments on the human condition through the use of myth and symbol, describing natural phenomena and animals in evocative language. Hughes contends that Western civilization has overvalued intellectual faculties, dividing humans both from their instinctual urges and from nature. He suggests that the poet can be a reunifying source by employing such creative energies as imagination and emotion, as well as rationalization, to probe the mysteries of nature and life. Ted Hughes is one of a very few contemporary British poets to have gained a significant reputation outside Britain. In the 1950s, Hughes’ poetry signalled a dramatic departure from the prevailing modes of the period. The stereotypical poem of the time was determined not to risk much: politely domestic in its subject matter, understated and mildly ironic in style. By contrast, Hughes marshalled a language of nearly Shakespearean resonance to explore themes which were mythical and elemental. (Adapted from: “Ted Hughes.” Contemporary Literary Criticism Select, Gale, 2008).
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