Simon Armitage was Hay's poet-in-residence this year but his most recent collection saw him in much wilder climes - if no less remote.
For the book, Walking Home, he travelled as a modern troubadour, earning his keep and lodgings through giving readings. His journey took him along the Pennine Way, taking the normal route in reverse, heading from North to South and finishing near his home village of Marston. The project was partly conceived as a way “to test whether words in a concentrated form could still have a relationship with people”.
One of the nation's most high profile, and busy, poets, Armitage is also working as London South Bank’s poet-in-residence, and is taking the helm of the Poetry Parnassus, which will see poets from each of the Olympic nations engage in two weeks of talks, discussions and workshops. Armitage said teasingly: “We are still looking for a poet from Monaco. I think they are all too busy driving their Lamborghinis to write poetry.” ”
Asked about his view of commissions and competitions for poets, Armitage said: “Some are great as they provoke you to do things that you wouldn’t normally have considered - but some are demeaning; there is a feeling as a poet that you only write the poems you want to write. I’ve seen with some commissions certainly that rhyme is viewed as good value for money.”
He was warily optimistic about the future of the artform: “Poetry is constantly enquiring of itself, wondering if it will die . . . I don’t think there’s ever been a golden age for poetry or for poets, they have their moments. It’s not a frontline artform, but it is still here."
Armitage said he thinks of Walking Home as the “last part” of a trilogy on Northern England, writing about language and “about my life as a poet”. He added: “I think when I set out I thought it would be a book about me, but I think its turned out to be a book about other people. There are a lot of pen portraits of people and of community - and I hadn’t anticipated that it would turn out to be that sort of book. I got used to travelling everyday. I was testing notions of home, and testing those memories.”
He didn’t rule out undertaking another trip for a similar work - “I’m not hanging up my boots” - but he said his next move would be: “Back to the back bedroom and writing poems.”
Walking Home by Simon Armitage is published by Faber