After studying poetry by Simon Armitage for GCSE English Literature, I realised I was the odd one out.
After studying poetry by Simon Armitage for GCSE English Literature, I realised I was the odd one out. I loved Hitcher and November and Kid, as well as metaphors, alliteration and clusters of three (cluster intended). So, when it came to the Edinburgh International Book Festival, Simon Armitage’s Conversations With My Younger Self, was the first ticket I made sure to confirm.
I’m not dead
The event started memorably, as Armitage started by reading a poem to the audience, one which is brand new and was centred around the theme of planes. With a refrain of “thank you for waiting” it is a humorous take on the way in which passengers board aeroplanes and, in my mind, a comedic view on hierarchy. Brilliantly funny, it elicited much laughter from the audience, proving the poet is still very much on form.
When asked why he chose to read a new poem, he replied that he felt it was “thematically valid” and that, despite the publication of Paper Aeroplane (a collection of his works over the past twenty five years), it is not a full stop and he is still going. A reminder to himself that he is not dead. Yet, despite pushing forward with new projects and ideas, the poet shared that he has also seen the need to draw himself back and enjoy things.
Being able to have a collection of poems published requires a certain amount of hard work to ensure enough poems to fill a book. Paper Aeroplane features poems over the span of twenty five years and it must be strange looking back to world penned a quarter of a century ago. Armitage expresses that he had a different frame of mind back then and that it was a different life: “At the time, I had no notion I would be published.” It was more a sense of happiness that drove him forward, not even the hope of being published, but simply happiness to write. Once published, he says, you “write with a different mindset and purpose.”
Getting published then, has a big impact and comes with a lot pressure. However, for many writers it may be difficult to pack in a day job and commit fully to writing. The thought is daunting and much too scary, resulting in pressure and the dreaded writer’s block. Armitage reveals he was lucky enough to have his job there if he needed it for a year, and that it gave him time to think and experiment, taking away the pressure of poetry as a job or having to face an ultimatum which would require throwing away being a probation officer for no guarantees.
Poetry, technology and the right hand margin
After revealing much about his journey and newest work, questions about the future and even the present began to surface. With the advance of technology, it can be said to be the end for books, but what about poetry? One view is that technology can be seen to help, rather than hinder, poetry because poetry can work collaboratively with other forms.
Armitage has proved exactly this, showing himself to be versatile in various different art forms, having been involved recently with theatre and the dramatisation of The Last Days of Troy. We learn the poet wasn’t “bookish” as a child and so collaboration with other forms is natural, yet poetry remains a primitive and effective form of magic which can affect people despite time or distance.
Rather than taking the popular view that technology has a detrimental effect on the written word, he says the technology is not the hindrance: “Distraction is the challenge. You have to concentrate when you read poetry and when you write it, it’s not for everybody. That’s what I like about it though, there’s something subversive about it. It doesn’t even get to the right hand margin.”
For fans of his work, we learn what is coming up for the talented poet. More poetry seems to be on the way after the beginning of the event and also more work in theatre. Having forgotten how exposing drama is, he will be continuing with the dramatisation of some of The Odyssey due to the raw and immediate reaction it incites, which cannot be found in the same way with books. Another book of poems will be out next year, and he has also just written some poems for the BBC for untold stories of World War One.
Ending with a reading of the title poem Paper Aeroplane, it was exactly the event I had been hoping for. Funny, witty, informative and brilliantly interesting, there is no doubt that I will be buying the collection Paper Aeroplane, as well as the new poetry out next year which, if on par with Thank You For Waiting (as I have no doubt it will be), will be just as good as I imagine it to be.