POET LAUREATE: SIMON ARMITAGE - appearing as part of Shoreham Wordfest 2019 on Sunday 6 October 6.30pm at Ropetackle Arts Centre – go to What’s On page to book tickets.
Simon Armitage was born in Huddersfield in 1963. He was awarded a Geography degree from Portsmouth University, worked with young offenders and subsequently gained an MA in social work at Manchester University.
He burst onto the UK poetry scene in 1989 with “Zoom”; already writing in a muscular and lyrical language which signalled a new kid on the poetry block. His observations arcing from the quotidian to the eternal became a pleasurable literary trademark. He was clearly a new talent who was going to shape the literary landscape in the coming years. And he did. He has been called ‘The Auden of his generation’ and his popularity has been compared to that of Philip Larkin.
Simon Armitage’s utterly deserved appointment as UK Poet Laureate places him in the footsteps of William Wordsworth, Alfred Tennyson and Ted Hughes. Of course, the role has changed over time.
In a recent BBC interview, Simon Armitage wryly described it as a shift from the “masonic” to the modern. His immediate predecessors, Andrew Motion and Carol Ann Duffy shook things up, each in their own decade in post. Andrew Motion was a powerful advocate for improved poetry teaching in schools, whilst Carol Ann Duffy, a great poet herself, took the show on the road.
Simon Armitage will, no doubt, advance the contemporisation of the post. He has a strong record of writing the kind of public-facing and public-occasion poetry that his role will encourage. His latest collection “Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic”, published in 2019, is an important reflection on his public engagement as a poet and his astonishing range of interests and talents.
Generations of GCSE students have met and frequently responded well to his verse. His poem “Remains” exploring the experience of a young soldier’s suffering from PTSD in the aftermath of an unnamed war, has struck a strong chord in many students. The understated, often colloquial style, contrasted with the brutality of the killing, creates a powerful statement built up from an apparently simple anecdotal opening:
“ On another occasion, we got sent out…”
Simon Armitage’s accessibility to readers is often commented upon. Another well-studied favourite, is “Poem”, which, in sonnet form, raises profound questions as to the ambiguities of human behaviour, including its darker side. The shape of stanza two gives us an example of Armitage’s controlled delivery of hard-hitting revelations:
And every week he tipped up half his wage.
And what he didn’t spend each week he saved
And praised his wife for every meal she made.
And once, for laughing, punched her in the face.
(From “Kid” 1992)
In conclusion: As Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage plans to use his £5,750 Honorarium to fund a prize or event promoting poetry on Climate Change. He claims that all art forms need to react to this situation, “It is unignorable…It is a subject-matter fit for our age”.
So, to complement this declaration, I’ll offer an extract from the poet’s “A Vision” which may also chime with Shoreham WordFest’s 2019 theme of “Shaping the Future.”
The poet’s voice tells us that a once-beautiful vision of the future has been destroyed. The final stanza bleakly concludes thus:
I pulled the future out of the north wind
at the landfill site, stamped with today’s date,
riding the air with other such futures,
all unlived in and now fully extinct.
(From “Tyrannosaurus Rex versus the Corduroy Kid”, 2006)