The University of Leeds has a long-standing and historically significant engagement with poetry and poets. Between 1950 and 1980 the pioneering Gregory Fellowships scheme (under the patronage of Eric Gregory and with the assistance of T. S. Eliot, Herbert Read, and the then Head of the Department of English Bonamy Dobree) brought twelve poets to Leeds as artists in residence. These were James Kirkup, John Heath Stubbs, Thomas Blackburn, Jon Silkin, William Price Turner, Peter Redgrove, David Wright, Martin Bell, Kevin Crossley-Holland, Pearse Hutchinson, Wayne Brown, and Paul Mills. In this same period, Geoffrey Hill was a member of staff (1954-1981), and Tony Harrison and James Simmons were students – as were the Gregory Fellow Jon Silkin, the Yorkshire Arts Fellow Ken Smith, and the boxer-poet Vernon Scannell. Silkin brought Stand magazine to Leeds in 1960 and this became a further focus and stimulus for poets and poetry at the University alongside the student magazine Poetry and Audience which had been inaugurated by Canadian undergraduate Ralph Maude in 1953. Other University of Leeds alumni who have gone on to become poets include: Sarah Corbett, Ian Duhig, Linda France, Jon Glover, Sean O’Brien, Jeffrey Wainwright, and John Whale.
From the early 1990s to the present the School of English has employed a number of Creative Writing Fellows, many of whom have been poets: Sarah Maguire, Ian Duhig, Simon Armitage, Sean O’Brien, John Hartley Williams, Peter Sansom, Amanda Dalton, Kitty Fitzgerald, Vahni Capildeo, Paul Maddern, Linda France, Evan Jones, and Malika Booker.
As part of the University’s plan to create a new Academy of Cultural Fellows – following the historical precedent of the Gregory Fellowships – a Fellowship in Poetry was created thanks to the generous donation of alumnus Douglas Caster. Douglas Caster Fellows have so far included Helen Mort, Malika Booker, and Vahni (Anthony Ezekiel) Capildeo.
In 2017 Simon Armitage was appointed to the inaugural Professorship of Poetry.
As a result of its long-standing engagement with poetry and poets the University houses in its Special Collections of the Brotherton Library an internationally significant set of archives. These include: the archives of individual poets (including those of Tony Harrison, Geoffrey Hill, Jon Silkin, Ken Smith, and Simon Armitage); archives relating to magazines (including Stand and the London Magazine); as well as the archives of poetry publishers (including Enitharmon and Greville).