September 3, 2011 Leave a comment
Simon Armitage seems forever young, but he’s now 48, a testament to how long he’s been in the public eye as one of our favourite poets. I first encountered him in the early 90s. I’d given up on contemporary British poetry after a thin diet that was the Morrison/Motion Penguin anthology, thinking it wasn’t for me. Somehow I then came across Armitage, and snapped up the first 2 books, “Kid” and “Zoom”, like an adolescent rock band these early works still resonate with me. Formal, funny, contemporary, irreverent, but also truthful and deeply felt, his poetry struck a genuine chord with people who, in the cliche, don’t usually read poetry. Yet I’ve never felt of Armitage as a gateway drug to contemporary verse, rather that he’s a one-off, a poet to his fingertips. Even more recently, seeing him read from “Seeing Stars” (a very different collection), I’ve been impressed by the compression in his work, every line does a job, and he somehow manages to fit more into a poem than most of his contemporaries. He’s moved into longer works in recent years, and from “Dead Sea Poems” onwards there’s always been a yearning away from the quotidian towards something more spiritual. His background as a probation worker, his love of music, and his continuing identification with his Yorkshire background have survived his adoption by Radio 4 and others. Lyrically, he may remain accessible, but his mixed-media projects, such as his 9/11 film, “Out of the Blue” or his young offenders’ sung opera “Feltham Sings” are rare examples of hybrid forms being more than the sum of his parts. He’s as close to a poet of my generation that there is, and remains an important touchstone; an older literary brother, even if not specifically an influence.