On Tuesday 29th of January, renowned poet Simon Armitage appeared in the Bramall Music Building as part of the ‘Birmingham Visiting Writers Programme.’ It was the first event that the English Department had held in the new building and the turnout was remarkable. Every seat on the lower tiers was filled, and the balconies were even opened for surplus spectators. It was clear that this visitor was popular, and a huge number of people were eager to see him.
After a short introduction, Armitage took to the stage with welcoming applause. To many, this literary figure will be remembered as a favourite from GCSE English Literature, as a number of his poems featured in the Anthology course book. He has had 10 volumes of his poetry published, and has been awarded a CBE for his contribution to poetry. But he is a humble man in every attribute; from afar, with his faded jeans and a baggy suit-jacket, he looks like your best friend’s Dad. But peer a little closer and his brothel-creeper shoes and gold pirate earring give away his eccentricity.
From the start of his lecture, it was clear that Simon Armitage’s well-known stage presence and charm were still very much intact as he regaled us with amusing anecdotes from his childhood and his home-county of Yorkshire before getting to the serious stuff. His first poem ‘The Shout’ recalled a science project from his school days. After this, a reading of ‘Zoom’ – one of his first published poems about a cartoon show’s credits – left everyone in the room a little bemused but completely hooked. Following this, Armitage read some of his translated pieces, including ‘The Green Knight’ (which, incidentally, Disney approached him about to use for a new animation). Next, we were treated to one of his ‘Flash Fiction’ pieces titled ‘The Net’ – a slightly longer poem with a prose-like structure.
Forty-five minutes flew by, and soon it was time for some discussion. With some great questions from the audience, we were delighted with a number of quick-witted one-liners and amusing stories – in particular, a hilarious recollection of an embarrassing misunderstanding about ‘cashback’ in Huddersfield Sainsbury’s that left everyone laughing out loud.
Photo by William Fallows
However, Simon Armitage isn’t just an entertainer – he proved that beneath his showman exterior lays an extremely passionate and pensive mind, and his ponderings were both informative and thoughtful. Upon being asked whether his consideration of his readers affected his writing he profoundly responded: ‘There are only 26 letters in the English Language. But if you put them in the right order, you can explode something in someone’s mind, thousands of miles away, hundreds of years apart, in complete silence.’ And after just an hour in the same room as him, it would be safe to say that he had enthralled and impressed every member of his captivated audience.
By Megan Evans @mkevans92
Posted in Literature, Reviews, Spoken Word, University of Birmingham
Tagged Bramall Music Building, poetry, Simon Armitage, students, The Shout, translation, university of birmingham, Zoom
When it comes to public speaking Simon Armitage has always been renowned as a writer with a sense of humour. His talk at the Birmingham Book Festival proved no different. His allotted time wasn’t just about how many funny anecdotes he could tell before the end of the night, however. The evening’s discussion focused mainly on his new novel Walking Home, a book about his backwards and penniless journey of the Pennine Way.
The evening began with Armitage’s explanation for walking the arduous 256 miles. He described growing up in Marsden, part of the Pennine Way trail, and watching the shadows of walkers descend upon his town in the summer. The most vivid image was that of two travellers who had pitched a tent near his house and decided to stay in Marsden, opening up their tent to let wafts of smoke out every now and again.
Having seen so many others do it the author felt he should give it a go but with the twist of using no money. He wanted to test the value of poetry, and his worth as a poet, trading lodging for poetry readings. His choice to do the walk in reverse meant ending the walk in Marsden; a physical challenge, as well as a test of his personal value.
Continuing to reflect on his childhood, Armitage reminisced of slide-shows his town would display every year – ‘sometimes the Priest’s holiday pictures would end up in there’ – and used this as a cue for his own slide-show. The comments that complemented the presentation were minimal but effective; ‘this is a door’ was met with a roar of laughter. With every picture the audience anticipated his next witty remark.
By the end of the talk, the listeners knew everything they needed to know about the making of Walking Home. The time came to hear the result of Armitage’s endeavour to write prose rather than poetry. Before this, he admitted the intention of the walk was to provide inspiration for new poems but unfortunately the part of his brain, which he used for walking, was the part he also used for creating verse too. Yet this wasn’t evident in the extracts heard by the audience. While it certainly read like prose the attention to detail and descriptions of various parts of the journey felt like they had been taken out of lines of poetry. The charm of the novel was that the change in form hadn’t resulted in a change in style. There was a nice balance of insightful observations, alongside smirk-prescribing stories to make the novel worth its merit.
Before the Q&A Armitage indulged the audience in one last anecdote from his walk titled ‘The Doughnut Man’. It involved an incident, during a reading, where the audience’s laughter and attention was diverted to a man in a doughnut costume stood just behind him. The bizarreness of the situation was a great way to end a relaxing evening, which never had a dull moment.
If you missed him at the Birmingham Book Festival, Simon Armitage will next be reading at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester on Tuesday 16th October 2012.
Posted in Culture, Literature, Spoken Word, Uncategorized
Tagged Anecdotes, birmingham book festival, Literature, Marsden, Pennine Way, Simon Armitage, Slide-shows, Walking Home