“With his acute eye for modern life, Armitage is an updated version of Wordsworth’s “man talking to men” . . . . But his seemingly off-the-cuff style masks a sophisticated craftsmen indebted to Auden, Muldoon, and MacNeice as much as popular culture.”-Poetry Archive, England
Simon Armitage was born in 1963 in West Yorkshire, England. He burst onto the poetry scene with his first book, Zoom! in 1989 and quickly established himself as the most high-profile poet in the group dubbed “The New Generation.” His northern roots and ear for street-wise language gave his work a young, urban appeal and combined with a comedian’s sense of timing, have made Armitage a genuinely popular poet. After studying Geography at Portsmouth Polytechnic, he worked with young offenders before gaining a postgraduate qualification in social work at Manchester University. He began working as a probation officer in 1988 before becoming a full-time writer, a job that provided a particularly rich source of anecdote and vocabulary for his early poetry. Armitage says: “I’m not sure if it’s possible to be a Romantic poet anymore, but more and more poets seem to be turning their eye towards nature. To the necessity of its otherness. It’s hard to explain, but speaking personally, if the birds and the moors and the trees and the ice disappeared, then I would have no interest in writing about a city street, and probably no purpose as a poet.”
Zoom! was published by Bloodaxe Books, followed in 1992 by Xanadu, also by Bloodaxe, and Kid, by Faber & Faber. Further collections by Faber & Faber were quickly forthcoming: Book of Matches(1993), The Dead Sea Poems(1995), CloudCuckooLand(1997), Killing Time(1999), Selected Poems(2001), Travelling Songs(2002), and The Universal Home Doctor(2002). Seeing Stars (UK 2010) was released in US in 2011 by Knopf. Tyrannosaurus Rex Versus the Corduroy Kid (UK 2006) was published in the US in 2008, also by Knopf. The Shout, a book of new and selected poems was published in the US by Harcourt (2005). With Robert Crawford, Armitage edited The Penguin Anthology of Poetry from Britain and Ireland Since 1945. Other anthologies include Short and Sweet: 101 Very Short Poems, and a selection of Ted Hughes’ poetry, both published by Faber & Faber.
Armitage’s dramatised adaptation of Homer’s epic, Homer’s Odyssey: A Retelling, was published in 2006 by Faber & Faber in the UK and by WW Norton in the US. His translation of the Middle English classic poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, was commissioned by Faber & Faber, and Norton published it in 2007. The translation has been nominated as one of 2008’s best books by both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times. A BBC4 documentary, broadcast in 2009 and presented by Armitage, follows Gawain’s journey from Camelot to the Green Chapel across the rural landscapes of Wales and England. His newest verse translation is The Death of King Arthur (Norton, 2011).
Armitage is the recipient of nearly all the top awards for poetry in the UK, including the Sunday Times Young Author of the Year, a Gregory Award, and a Forward Prize. In the US he has received a major Lannan Award and was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award for Tyrannosaurus Rex Versus the Corduroy Kid. Zoom! was a Poetry Society Book Choice. His collections Kid, The Dead Sea Poems, and CloudCuckooLand were shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Prize, while The Dead Sea Poems, The Universal Home Doctor, and Seeing Stars were shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize. Additionally, The Dead Sea Poems was shortlisted for the prestigious Forward Prize. Armitage has also won the Keats-Shelley Poetry Prize for 2010 for his poem entitled “The Present.” In 2010 he was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) at Buckingham Palace.
As a prose writer, Armitage is the author of two novels. His first, Little Green Man (Penguin 2001)-the story of 30-something divorcee Barney and his attempt to relive childhood experiences-explores the darker side of male friendship. His second, The White Stuff, (Penguin 2004), by turns comic and moving, examines issues of childlessness and identity. Other prose work includes the best-selling memoir All Points North, (Penguin 1998), a collection of essays about the north of England, which won the Yorkshire Post Book of the Year. Walking Home, in which Armitage recounts his experience walking the entire length of the 264-mile Pennine Way, from Scotland to Derbyshire, exchanging poetry readings for food and lodging along the way, was published in the US in 2013 by Liveright.
Armitage has worked extensively in film, radio, television, and theater. He wrote and presented Xanadu (1992), a “poem film for television,” broadcast by BBC television as part of the Words on Film series, and his film about the American poet Weldon Kees was broadcast by the BBC in 1993. With director Brian Hill, he pioneered the docu-musical format which lead to such cult films as Drinking for England and Song Birds. Both were broadcast by the BBC as part of the Modern Times series, and Song Birds was screened at the Sun Dance Film Festival in 2006. His television film Feltham Sings won a BAFTA in 2005; and for his song-writing on that film, Armitage received the prestigious Ivor Novella Award. Moon Country (1996), written with Glynn Maxwell, retraced a visit to Iceland in 1936 by the poets W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice, and was adapted as a six-part series, Second Draft from Saga Land, broadcast by BBC Radio 3. He wrote the libretto for the opera The Assassin Tree, composed by Stuart McRae, which premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2006. His recent dramatisation of The Odyssey, commissioned by the BBC, was broadcast in 2004 and released on CD through BBC Worldwide. It received the Gold Award at the 2005 Spoken Word Awards. He is the author of four stage plays, including Mister Heracles, a version of the Euripides play The Madness of Heracles, and Jerusalem, commissioned by West Yorkshire Playhouse.
Simon Armitage has served as a judge for the Forward Prize, the T.S Eliot Prize, the Whitbread Prize, the Griffin Prize, and was a judge for the 2006 Man Booker Prize. He has taught at the University of Leeds and the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop, and is currently a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University.
Armitage is the singer-songwriter of a two-man band, The Scaremongers, alongside his friend Craig Smith.
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PAPER AEROPLANE(Poetry, UK 2014)
When Simon Armitage burst on to the poetry scene in 1989 with his spectacular debut Zoom!, readers were introduced to an exceptional new talent who would reshape the landscape of contemporary poetry in the years to come. Now, twenty-five years on, Simon Armitage’s reputation as one of the nation’s most original, most respected and best-loved poets seems secure. Paper Aeroplane: Poems 1989-2014 is the author’s own selection from across a quarter-century of work, from his debut to the latest, uncollected work. Drawing upon all of his award-winning poetry collections, including Kid, Book of Matches, The Universal Home Doctor and Seeing Stars, this generous selection provides an essential gathering of this most thrilling of poets, and is key reading for students and general readers alike.
WALKING HOME: A POET’S JOURNEY (Nonfiction, 2013)
In summer 2010 Simon Armitage decided to walk the Pennine Way. The challenging 256-mile route is usually approached from south to north, from Edale in the Peak District to Kirk Yetholm, the other side of the Scottish border. He resolved to tackle it the other way round: through beautiful and bleak terrain, across lonely fells and into the howling wind, he would be walking home, towards the Yorkshire village where he was born. Travelling as a “modern troubadour” without a penny in his pocket, he stopped along the way to give poetry readings in village halls, churches, pubs, and living rooms. His audiences varied from the passionate to the indifferent, and his readings were accompanied by the clacking of pool balls, the drumming of rain and the bleating of sheep. “Walking Home” describes this extraordinary, yet ordinary, journey. It’s a story about Britain’s remote and overlooked interior – the wildness of its landscape and the generosity of the locals who sustained him on his journey. It’s about facing emotional and physical challenges, and sometimes overcoming them. It’s nature writing, but with people at its heart. Contemplative, moving and droll, it is a unique narrative from one of our most beloved writers.
THE DEATH OF KING ARTHUR (Translation, 2011)
King Arthur comes to vivid life in this gripping poetic translation. First appearing around 1400, The Alliterative Morte Arthure or The Death of King Arthur, is one of the most widely beloved and spectacularly alliterative poems ever penned in Middle English. Now, from the internationally acclaimed translator of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, comes this magisterial new presentation of the Arthurian tale, rendered in unflinching and gory detail. Following Arthur’s bloody conquests across the cities and fields of Europe, all the way to his spectacular and even bloodier fall, this masterpiece features some of the most spellbinding and poignant passages in English poetry. Never before have the deaths of Arthur’s loyal knights, his own final hours, and the subsequent burial been so poignantly evoked. Echoing the lyrical passion that so distinguished Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf, Simon Armitage has produced a virtuosic new translation that promises to be both a literary event of the year and the definitive edition for generations to come.
SEEING STARS (Poetry, 2010)
A hyper-vivid array of dramatic monologues, allegories, parables, and tall tales, creating peculiar and particular worlds. “Seeing Stars is as disorienting as its title promises, a wildly inventive mix of satire, fantasy, comedy and horror. In a series of vignettes that hover somewhere between poetry and prose…The book retains a satirical edge throughout, though the target keeps moving.” -The Guardian
TYRANNOSAURUS REX VERSUS THE CORDUROY KID (Poetry, 2006)
From one of the most important British poets at work today, this brilliant collection meditates on human battles past and present, on youth and age, on monsters and underdogs, on the life of nations and the individual heart. In poems that are sometimes lyrical, sometimes brash and comic, and full of living voices, the extraordinary and the mythic grow out of the ordinary, and figures of diminishment and tragedy shine forth as mysterious, uncelebrated exemplars. Armitage tells us ruefully that “the future was a beautiful place, once,”and with a steady eye out for the odd mystery or joyous scrap of experience, examines our complex present instead.
THE ENGLISH ASTRONAUT
He splashed down in rough seas off Spurn Point.
I watched through a coin-op telescope jammed
with a lollipop stick as a trawler fished him out
of the waves and ferried him back to Mission
Control on a trading estate near the Humber Bridge.
He spoke with a mild voice: yes, it was good to be
home; he’d missed his wife, the kids, couldn’t wait
for a shave and a hot bath, ‘Are there any more
questions?’ No, there were not.
I followed him in his Honda Accord to a Little
Chef on the AI, took the table opposite, watched
him order the all-day breakfast and a pot of tea.
‘You need to go outside to do that,’ said the
waitress when he lit a cigarette. He read the paper,
started the crossword, poked at the black pudding
with his fork. Then he stared through the window
for long unbroken minutes at a time, but only at the
busy road, never the sky. And his face was not the
moon. And his hands were not the hands of a man
who had held between finger and thumb the blue
planet, and lifted it up to his watchmaker’s eye.
-from SEEING STARS
I left a spelling at my father’s house
written in small coins on his front step.
It said which star I was heading for next,
which channel to watch, which button to press.
I should have waited, given that spelling
a voice, but I was handsome and late.
While I was gone he replied with pebbles
and leaves at my gate. But a storm got up
from the west, sluicing all meaning and shape.
I keep his broken spelling in a tin,
tip it out on the cellar floor, hoping
a letter or even a word might form.
And I am all grief, staring through black space
to meet his eyes, trying to read his face.
-from TYRANNOSAURUS REX VERSUS THE CORDUROY KID
And if it snowed and snow covered the drive
he took a spade and tossed it to one side.
And always tucked his daughter up at night
And slippered her the one time that she lied.
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.
And for his mum he hired a private nurse.
And every Sunday taxied her to church.
And he blubbed when she went from bad to worse.
And twice he lifted ten quid from her purse.
Here’s how they rated him when they looked back:
sometimes he did this, sometimes he did that.
SIR GAWAIN AND THE GREEN KNIGHT (excerpt)
In the standing position he prepared to be struck,
bent forward, revealing a flash of green flesh
as he heaped his hair to the crown of his head,
the nape of his neck now naked and ready.
Gawain grips the axe and heaves it heavenwards,
plants his left foot firmly on the floor in front,
then swings it swiftly toward the bare skin.
The cleanness of the strike cleaved the spinal cord
and parted the fat and the flesh so far
that the bright steel blade took a bite from the floor.
The handsome head tumbles onto the earth
and the king’s men kick it as it clatters past.
Blood gutters brightly against his green gown,
yet the man doesn’t shudder or stagger or sink
but trudges toward them on those tree-trunk legs
and rummages around, reaches at their feet,
and cops hold of his head and hoists it high,
and strides to his steed, snatches the bridle,
steps into the stirrup and swings into the saddle
still gripping his head by a handful of hair.
Then he settles himself in his seat with the ease
of a man unmarked, never mind being minus
And when he wheeled about
his bloody neck still bled.
His point was proved. The court
was deadened now with dread.
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