The Scottish Poetry Library welcomes the news that Simon Armitage has been appointed the UK’s new Poet Laureate. The author of 28 collections of poetry and the recipient in 2018 of the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, Armitage is the UK’s 21st Poet Laureate.
Asif Khan, Director of the Scottish Poetry Library, sat on the advisory panel appointed by Jeremy Wright, Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, to recommend who should succeed Duffy as Poet Laureate. The post is given on a ten-year basis. Representatives from the British Council, Arts Council England and Arts Council Northern Ireland, Royal Society of Literature, Literature Wales, The Poetry Society, Forward Arts Foundation, British Library and Poetry Book Society also sat on the panel.
Khan says, ‘I remember Simon Armitage from his guest appearances on Mark Radcliffe’s late evening show on BBC Radio 1 in the early 1990s. Armitage came across as warm, bright and funny – traits that will serve Simon well in the laureate role. He was at the forefront of a wave of poets, including Carol Ann Duffy, who invigorated British poetry. It was a personal honour to represent the Scottish poetry sector on the selection panel for the new Poet Laureate. The process was fair and inclusive and the task was considerable given the great number of talented poets that we were able to choose from.’
Armitage was born in 1963 in Huddersfield. His working-class background, a dry wit and Yorkshire’s linguistic heritage have informed his poetry throughout his career. He was a post-graduate student at the University of Manchester where his MA thesis concerned the effects of television violence on young offenders, after which he worked as a probation officer in Greater Manchester until he quit to write fulltime in 1994. Many of Armitage’s poems appear in the AQA (Assessment and Qualifications Alliance) GCSE syllabus for English Literature. He is professor of poetry at the University of Leeds and succeeded Geoffrey Hill as Oxford Professor of Poetry in 2015. Sean O’Brien has described him as ‘the first poet of serious artistic intent since Philip Larkin to have achieved popularity.’
The Scottish Poetry Library stocks most of Armitage’s back catalogue which users can borrow. We also remember with great fondness his appearance at the Library in 2007. Armitage had traveled north to take part in our occasional series My Life in Poetry, a Desert Island Discs where songs are replaced by poems. Armitage, who chose both Wordsworth and John Cooper Clarke, said, ‘Looking through [my list], there’s little or no ‘modernism’ here. This is because of my preference for poetry which sounds like some form of speech, or has a direct relationship with the human voice.’
Looking to the future, Armitage hopes to use the position of Poet Laureate to ‘act in an ambassadorial way, as a kind of negotiator between what inevitably is something of a specialist art form, and the people who want to read it and respond on occasions with poetry’. He will also use his stipend to set up a prize or an event related ‘to the field of climate change’. As he begins his term, the Library wishes him luck and looks forward to working with him on the promotion of poetry and reading.