Ancient Mariner Big Read

Stars of the stage and screen, arts and music transform one of English Literature’s most celebrated poems, Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

It is an epic tale of adventure, fear and fascination – a work of 18th century science fiction that has prophetic messages for the natural world, climate breakdown and mental health globally relevant in the 21st century.  Free to access, it comprises 40 online broadcasts narrated by celebrity voices, each paired with a piece by a renowned contemporary artist.

This online digital artwork also includes scientific, cultural and personal commentary from friends of the Big Read such as Richard Holmes, Coleridge's biographer, and the University's Professor John Spicer. Visitors to the site can now enjoy previous daily releases of the Big Read as one symphonic piece, edited with an atmospheric soundscape.

Commissioned by The Arts Institute, the Big Read is curated by director Dr Sarah Chapman, with writer Philip Hoare, and artist Angela Cockayne.

Preview highlights from this immersive digital work of art below. Reader No. 1 - Jeremy Irons, actor; Reader No. 8 - Tilda Swinton, actor; Reader No. 9 - Iggy Pop, singer and songwriter. Hear the readings in full at ancientmarinerbigread.com.

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<i>The Shallow End</i>, Glenn Brown<br>Oil on panel (oval)<br>128 x 96 cm (50 3/8 x 37 3/4 in)<br>Courtesy the artist</p></div>

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'The Shallow End' by Glenn Brown
<p><i>Lucent Blue</i>, Lisa Wright<br>40x30 cm<br>Oil on canvas<br>

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'Lucent Blue' by Lisa Wright
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</p><div><p><i>Immersion</i>,

Sarah Chapman<br>2018<br>Photographic print mounted on aluminium,&nbsp;with oil, china, glass,<br>62cmx47cm</p></div>

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'Immersion' by Sarah Chapman
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</p><div><p><i>Post-Mortem, </i>Linder<i><br></i>Photomontage</p></div><p></p>
'Post-Mortem' by Linder

Reader No.35 - Professor John Spicer

The boat came closer to the ship,
But I nor spake nor stirred;

Marine zoologist Professor John Spicer is the scientific advisor for the Ancient Mariner Big Read, here he recites the 35th broadcast of the project alongside artwork by Grace Schwindt, Hot and Copper Fire.

Throughout the project John also contributes scientific, cultural and personal commentary, commenting on the environmental lessons of Coleridge’s tale from the perspective of a marine zoologist.

Read more about Professor John Spicer's work

Hear the Curators' Conversation

An exclusive insight into the making of the Ancient Mariner Big Read, including the unexpected results the Covid-19 quarantine had on this global project. 

Tune in as curators Dr Sarah Chapman, Philip Hoare and Angela Cockayne share their thoughts and reflections. Previously broadcast as a special online event on 28 May 2020.

The Rime and our research

Turning the tide on plastic pollution

“The level of interest in plastic pollution is unprecedented. And I think that is because plastics are so readily visible. At a basic level, we the public can see the things that are accumulating as litter and we realise that they are everyday items – the drinks bottles and crisp packets – and it feels so unnecessary. So there is a story here of an environmental challenge that I think is solvable and that the public are keen to act upon.”

Professor Richard Thompson OBE

Read more about our work to address the global issue of marine litter, which earned the Queen's Anniversary Prize in 2020

A metaphor for our modern times?

Professor John Spicer, marine zoologist and scientific advisor for the Ancient Mariner Big Read comments on the environmental lessons of Coleridge’s tale, including environmental grief, the effects of climate change and the relevance of the Rime after 200 years.

“As a biologist who loves The Rime, the message of wilful biodiversity destruction, living with and suffering its consequences, dawning realisation and the finding of (if not always the search for) redemption is all in The Rime.”

Read on for more from Professor John Spicer and the university’s research as part of the Marine Institute

Romanticism, ‘The Rime’, and Imperial Culture

Lecturer in English, Dr Arun Sood’s research is primarily focused on the transatlantic movement and significance of Romantic literature in colonial, postcolonial, and global contexts. Here he questions the metaphorical interpretations of The Rime and the intellectual legacies of Romanticism.

"Coleridge’s poem has long been considered a central feature of the Romantic canon, and it has become clearer in recent years that British Romantic writing needs to be considered in the contemporary context of imperial culture."

Read on to find out more

Our contributors


Excerpt from Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

And a good south wind sprung up behind;
The Albatross did follow,
And every day, for food or play,
Came to the mariner's hollo!

Illustration: Joe Lyward

The origin – Moby-Dick Big Read

Enthralled by the book Leviathan, Or the Whale Dr Sarah Chapman approached the author, Philip Hoare, to give a talk as part of the University's public arts programme. What followed was an introduction to Philip's fellow Moby-Dick enthusiast, artist Angela Cockayne and in the spring of 2011, the trio collaborated and curated a unique whale symposium and exhibition, Dominion at the University. They invited artists, writers, musicians, scientists and academics to respond to the theme, and the result was the Moby-Dick Big Read.

Since its first broadcast in 2012 this ambitious project has gathered over 10 million hits and international acclaim from press including The Guardian, The Telegraph and The New Yorker.

The Arts Institute

The Arts Institute is the wide-ranging public arts programme of the University of Plymouth which plays a pivotal role in building culture and art in the city and South West region, supporting established, new and emerging artists from around the world.

It hosts the largest contemporary art gallery in Plymouth, The Levinsky Gallery; a diverse range of classic films and contemporary cinematic masterpieces screened in the Jill Craigie Cinema; a cutting-edge theatre and dance programme in The House; musical performances and concerts, and a year-long series of fascinating talks that open up the world of history.

Open to all University of Plymouth students and the public – find out more

Marine Institute 

The University’s Marine Institute is the first and largest such institute in the UK. 

We provide the external portal to our extensive pool of world-leading experts and state-of-the-art facilities, enabling us to understand the relationship between the way we live, the seas that surround us and the development of sustainable policy solutions. 

We are integrating our multidisciplinary expertise in marine and maritime research, education and innovation to train new scientists, engineers, policy-makers, artists, technicians and business managers of the future. 

Find out more about the institute and our research, education and facilities

Study courses related to the Big Read

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