Simon Armitage

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Simon Armitage

Simon Armitage in 2009.jpg
Armitage in 2009
Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom
Assumed office
10 May 2019
Monarch Elizabeth II
Preceded by Carol Ann Duffy
Personal details
Simon Robert Armitage

(1963-05-26) 26 May 1963 (age 57)
Huddersfield, West Riding of Yorkshire, England
Residence Holme Valley, West Yorkshire, England
Education Colne Valley High School
Alma mater Portsmouth Polytechnic
University of Manchester
OccupationPoet, playwright, novelist, lead singer of the Scaremongers

Simon Robert Armitage, CBE , FRSL (born 26 May 1963) [1] is an English poet, playwright and novelist who was appointed Poet Laureate on 10 May 2019. [2] He is also professor of poetry at the University of Leeds and succeeded Geoffrey Hill as Oxford Professor of Poetry when he was elected to the four year part time appointment from 2015–2019. [3]


Early life and education

Armitage was born in Huddersfield, West Riding of Yorkshire, [4] [5] and grew up in the village of Marsden, where his family still live. [6] He has an older sister, Hilary. His father Peter is a former electrician, probation officer and firefighter who is well known locally for writing plays and pantomimes for his all-male panto group, The Avalanche Dodgers. [6] [7]

He wrote his first poem aged 10 as a school assignment. [6] Armitage first studied at Colne Valley High School, Linthwaite, and went on to study geography at Portsmouth Polytechnic. He was a postgraduate student at the University of Manchester, where his MA thesis concerned the effects of television violence on young offenders. Finding himself jobless after graduation, he decided to train as a probation officer, like his father before him. Around this time he began writing poetry more seriously, [6] though he continued to work as a probation officer in Greater Manchester until 1994. [8]


His first poetry collection was called Human Geography (1988). He published Zoom! in 1989. [8]

He has lectured on creative writing at the University of Leeds, the University of Iowa, and was senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University. He has made literary, history and travel programmes for BBC Radio 3 and 4; and since 1992 he has written and presented a number of TV documentaries. From 2009 to 2012 he was Artist in Residence at London's South Bank, and in February 2011 he became Professor of Poetry at the University of Sheffield. [9] [10] In October 2017 he was appointed as the first Professor of Poetry at the University of Leeds. [11] In 2019 he was appointed Poet Laureate for ten years, following Carol Ann Duffy. [12]


Armitage's poetry collections include Book of Matches (1993) and The Dead Sea Poems (1995). He has written two novels, Little Green Man (2001) and The White Stuff (2004), as well as All Points North (1998), a collection of essays on Northern England. He produced a dramatised version of Homer's Odyssey and a collection of poetry entitled Tyrannosaurus Rex Versus The Corduroy Kid (which was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize), both of which were published in July 2006. Many of Armitage's poems appear in the AQA (Assessment and Qualifications Alliance) GCSE syllabus for English Literature in the United Kingdom. These include "Homecoming", "Extract from Out of the Blue", "November", "Kid", "Hitcher", "Remains", and a selection of poems from Book of Matches, most notably of these "Mother any distance...". His work also appears on CCEA's GCSE English Literature course.

He is characterised by a dry Yorkshire wit combined with "an accessible, realist style and critical seriousness." [10] His translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (2007) was adopted for the ninth edition of The Norton Anthology of English Literature , and he was the narrator of a 2010 BBC documentary about the poem and its use of landscape. [13]

Armitage in 2015 Simon Armitage in 2015.jpg
Armitage in 2015

Armitage also writes for radio, television, film and stage. He is the author of five stage plays, including Mister Heracles, a version of Euripides' The Madness of Heracles. The Last Days of Troy premiered at Shakespeare's Globe in June 2014. [14] He was commissioned in 1996 by the National Theatre in London to write Eclipse for the National Connections series, a play inspired by the real-life disappearance of a girl in Hebden Bridge, and set at the time of the 1999 solar eclipse in Cornwall. [15]

Most recently Armitage wrote the libretto for an opera scored by Scottish composer Stuart MacRae, The Assassin Tree, based on a Greek myth recounted in The Golden Bough . The opera premiered at the 2006 Edinburgh International Festival, Scotland, before moving to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. Saturday Night (Century Films, BBC2, 1996) – wrote and narrated a fifty-minute poetic commentary to a documentary about night-life in Leeds, directed by Brian Hill. In 2010, Armitage walked the 264-mile Pennine Way, walking south from Scotland to Derbyshire. Along the route he stopped to give poetry readings, often in exchange for donations of money, food or accommodation, despite the rejection of the free life seen in his 1993 poem "Hitcher", and has written a book about his journey, called Walking Home. [9]

He has received numerous awards for his poetry, including The Sunday Times Author of the Year, a Forward Prize, a Lannan Award, and an Ivor Novello Award for his song lyrics in the Channel 4 film Feltham Sings. Kid and CloudCuckooLand were short-listed for the Whitbread poetry prize. The Dead Sea Poems was short-listed for the Whitbread, the Forward Poetry Prize and the T. S. Eliot Prize. The Universal Home Doctor was also short-listed for the T.S. Eliot. In 2000, he was the UK's official Millennium Poet and went on to judge the 2005 Griffin Poetry Prize, the 2006 Man Booker Prize for Fiction and the 2010 Manchester Poetry Prize.

In 2004, Armitage was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2010 Birthday Honours. [16] He is a vice president of the Poetry Society and a patron of the Arvon Foundation.

In 2007 he released an album of songs co-written with the musician Craig Smith, under the band name The Scaremongers. [17]

For the Stanza Stones Trail, which runs through 47 miles (76 km) of the Pennine region, Armitage composed six new poems on his walks. With the help of local expert Tom Lonsdale and letter-carver Pip Hall, the poems were carved into stones at secluded sites. A book, containing the poems and the accounts of Lonsdale and Hall, has been produced as a record of that journey [18] and has been published by Enitharmon Press. The poems, complemented with commissioned wood engravings by Hilary Paynter, were also published in several limited editions under the title 'In Memory of Water' by Fine Press Poetry. [19]

In 2016 the arts programme 14–18 NOW commissioned a series of poems by Simon Armitage as part of a five-year programme of new artwork created specifically to mark the centenary of the First World War. The poems are a response to six aerial or panoramic photographs of battlefields from the archive of the Imperial War Museum in London. The poetry collection Still premiered at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival and has been published in partnership with Enitharmon Press. [20]

In 2019 he was commissioned by Sky Arts to create an epic poem and film 'The Brink' as one of 50 projects in 'Art 50' looking at British Identity in the light of Brexit. The Brink looked at the British relationship with Europe, as envisioned from the closest point of the mainland to the rest of the continent - Kent.

For National Poetry Day on 1 October 2020, BT commissioned him to write "Something clicked", a reflection on lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic. [21]

Writing as Poet Laureate

In 2019 Armitage's first poem as Poet Laureate, "Conquistadors", commemorating the 1969 moon landing, was published in The Guardian . [22] [23]

Armitage's second poem as Poet Laureate, "Finishing it", was commissioned in 2019 by the Institute of Cancer Research. Graham Short, a micro-engraver, meticulously carved the entire 51-word poem clearly onto a facsimile of a cancer treatment tablet. [24] [25]

Armitage wrote "All Right" as part of Northern train operator's suicide prevention campaign for Mental Health Awareness Week. Their video has a sound track of the poem being read by Mark Addy, while the words also appear on screen. [26]

On 21 September 2019 he read his poem "Fugitives", commissioned by the Association of Areas of Natural Beauty, on Arnside Knott, Cumbria, in celebration of the 70th anniversary of the National Parks and Access to the Countryside Act, during an event which included the formation of a heart outlined by people on the hillside. [27] [28] [29] [30]

Armitage wrote "Ark" for the naming ceremony of the British Antarctic Survey's new ship RRS Sir David Attenborough on 26 September 2019. [31] [32] [33]

"the event horizon" was written in 2019 to commemorate the opening of The Oglesby Centre, an extension to Hallé St Peter's, the Halle orchestra's venue for rehearsals, recordings, education and small performances. The poem is incorporated into the building "in the form of a letter-cut steel plate situated in the entrance to the auditorium, the 'event horizon'". [34]

"Ode to a Clothes Peg" celebrates the bicentenary of John Keats' six 1819 odes of which Armitage says "Among his greatest works, the poems are also some of the most famous in the English Language." [35]

On 12 January 2020 Armitage gave the first reading of his poem "Astronomy for Beginners", written to celebrate the bicentenary of the Royal Astronomical Society, on BBC Radio 4's Broadcasting House . [36] [37]

"Lockdown", first published in The Guardian on 21 March 2020, is a response to the coronavirus pandemic, and references the Derbyshire "plague village" of Eyam, which self-isolated in 1665 to limit the spread of the Great Plague of London, and the Sanskrit poem "Meghadūta" by Kālidāsa, in which a cloud carries a message from an exile to his distant wife. [38] [39] Armitage read his "Still Life", another poem about the lockdown, on BBC Radio 4's Today programme on 20 April 2020. [40] [41]

An installation of his "The Omnipresent" was part of an outdoor exhibition Everyday Heroes at London's Southbank Centre in Autumn 2020. [42] [43]

Huddersfield Choral Society commissioned Armitage to provide lyrics for works by Cheryl Frances-Hoad and Daniel Kidane, resulting in "The Song Thrush and the Mountain Ash" and "We'll Sing", which were released on video in Autumn 2020. Armitage asked members of the choir to send him one word each to represent their experience of lockdown, and worked with these to produce the two lyrics. [44] [45] [46] [47]

Armitage read "The Bed" in Westminster Abbey on 11 November 2020 at the commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the burial of The Unknown Warrior. [48] [49]

As of December 2020 Armitage is working with Brian Hill on a documentary with the working title Where Did The World Go?, which "examines life and loss in lockdown and binds the whole narrative with a new, overarching poem from Armitage". [50]

Laurel Prize

In November 2019 Armitage announced that he would donate his salary as poet laureate to create a new prize for a collection of poems "with nature and the environment at their heart". The prize is to be run by the Poetry School. [51]

The Laureate's Library Tour

In November 2019 Armitage announced that each spring for ten years he would spend a week touring five to seven libraries giving a one hour poetry reading and perhaps introducing a guest poet. The libraries are to be selected in alphabetical order: in March 2020 he is to visit places or libraries with names starting with "A" or "B" (including the British Library [52] ), and so on until "W", "X", "Y" and "Z" in 2029. He comments: "The letter X will be interesting – does anywhere in the UK begin with X? I also want to find a way of including alphabet letters from other languages spoken in these islands such as Welsh, Urdu or Chinese, and to involve communities where English might not be the first language." [53] [54]

Radio and podcasts

In March 2020 Armitage launched a podcast, The Poet Laureate Has Gone To His Shed, also broadcast on BBC Radio 4. While working on the medieval poem The Owl and the Nightingale he invited a series of guests to visit him in his garden writing-shed. Guests included Testament, Maxine Peake, Lily Cole, Antony Gormley, Sam Lee, Melanie Plimmer, Jackie Kay, Laura Ashe, and Chris Packham; the programme broadcast on 27 May was made while self-isolating during the COVID-19 pandemic. [55] [56]

In May 2020 Armitage was the guest on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs . His choice of music (eight pieces to take to an imaginary desert island) was wide-ranging but the track he would save from a flood was David Bowie's "Moonage Daydream"; his chosen book was the Oxford English Dictionary , and his luxury a tennis ball. [57]

In April 2020, in a short interview on the BBC 6 Music show Guy Garvey's Finest Hour, Armitage chose the track "Stanlow" by Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, taken from their 1980 album Organisation . The song is a homage to the Stanlow Oil Refinery. [58]

Personal life

Armitage lives in the Holme Valley, West Yorkshire, close to his family home in Marsden. [59] He is married to radio producer Sue Roberts. They have a daughter, Emmeline, born in 2000. [60] Emmeline won the 2017 SLAMbassadors national youth poetry slam for 13-18-year-olds. [61] Continuing in both her father's and grandfather's tradition, she is a member of the National Youth Theatre and a singer. [62]

He is a supporter of his local football team, Huddersfield Town, to whom he makes many references in his book All Points North (1996). He is also a birdwatcher. [63]


Armitage is the first poet laureate who is also a DJ. [6] [64] He is a massive music fan, especially of The Smiths. [6] During what his wife Sue described as "a bit of a mid-life crisis", Armitage and his college friend Craig Smith founded the band The Scaremongers. [6] Their only album, Born in a Barn, was released in 2010. [65] Armitage is the lead singer of LYR, a band he is in alongside Richard Walters and Patrick J Pearson. The band is signed to Mercury KX, part of Decca Records. They released their debut album 'Call in the Crash Team' in 2020.

Awards and honours

Published works

Poetry collections


Pamphlets and limited editions



Other books

Selected television and radio works

See also

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Further reading