Poet Laureate Simon Armitage is to embark on a 10-year tour of the UK's libraries, using the alphabet to frame his itinerary.
Each spring for the next decade, he will perform live readings across the UK, from the flagship libraries of big cities to smaller libraries serving rural and remote communities.
Beginning with the letters "A" and "B" this spring, the tour launches in in Ashby-de-la-Zouch and will visit a variety of libraries during the week, stopping in Belper, Aberdeen, Bacup and Bootle. The week will include a reading from the entrance hall of the British Library featuring Joelle Taylor, founder of the national youth slam championships SLAMbassadors, and Theresa Lola, Young People’s Laureate for London 2019-2020. Readings from the first week of his trip will be streamed live from 26th April to 1st May.
Other guest poets during the week include local laureates Helen Mort and Eira Murphy, BBC Words finalist 2019 Amina Atiq, Bloodaxe poet Clare Shaw and triple Foyle Young Poet winner Mag Dixon. The first leg of the tour will conclude on the morning of 1st May with a reading to celebrate the official opening of Abington Library, Northampton, saved by the Friends of Abington Library Community Benefit Society.
Armitage said: "My experience of reading and writing began in the village library where I grew up, then in the nearby town library, then in libraries at various places of study and teaching. For many people they are an invaluable aspect of everyday life, giving access not just to books but to services, learning, conversation and creative thinking. I want to pay my respects to these unique institutions. By planning readings up to a decade in advance I’m being optimistic about the future of our libraries, and challenging those authorities who would consider closing them down.
"It would have been easy to stream these events from my office or garden shed, but at a time when libraries are under threat and have been out of bounds during lockdown, reading from inside their physical structures feels like an act of solidarity — with books, with poetry and with communities.
"The alphabet is the DNA of language and gives us the basic building blocks of all literature. It’s also the system by which many elements of our lives are organised and ordered, not least books on shelves. During the decade-long tour, 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."
Armitage is also professor of Poetry at the University of Leeds and his collections include Seeing Stars, The Unaccompanied, Sandettie Light Vessel Automatic, Magnetic Field and his translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, all published by Faber.
His programme for the laureateship includes the establishment of a National Poetry Centre and the launch of The Laurel Prize, an annual prize for environmentally-themed poetry, now in its second year.