SIMON ARMITAGE//HEADING SOUTH WEST

 
 
 

author. Elliot Simpson

 

Okay, I'll admit it: the only reason I went to Simon Armitage's talk at the festival was because of nostalgia. His poems had formed a pretty large part of my GCSE English curriculum and I could still remember some of them, like 'Hitcher', pretty well. I didn't know anything about the hour beyond who was talking and just hoped that he would read out some poetry that I knew. 

As a matter of fact he did read one out: his Batman and Robin based poem, 'Kid' (which contains the wonderful image of Batman 'stewing over chicken giblets'). But as great as that was, it was far from the best part of the talk. It only took a mere thirty seconds of what went on for an hour. During that hour I learned that there was more to Armitage than being a poet; he was the author of a few novels, had worked in television and radio, had published an adaption of The Odyssey and had written a pair of non-fiction travel books. It was one of these travel books, Walking Away, that the talk was focused on.

Walking Away focuses on Armitage traversing the south-west of England, walking all the way from Minehead down to Land's End. Along the way he stops off at various venues, such as pubs, performing poetry to the locals and asking them to give him what they think he's worth. He wanted to find out whether people would choose to listen to poetry, whether it could be seen as an evening's entertainment. Poetry having formed a powerful part of my time at Port Eliot (Sean Borodale, the Homework Poets and the Clinic Poets were all fantastic), this came across as a fascinating premise to me. Armitage even joked that he resisted performing at Minehead's Butlins for fear of going up against an Olly Murs tribute act.

Simon Armitage didn't go much into what the locals actually gave him for his poetry, but through my festival experience I think I can drawn my own conclusions on the matter. Though the audiences for the poetry readings I went to were fairly small (especially compared to the bigger acts), enough people turned up to show there was interest. Like Armitage, I'd like to believe that people would choose to watch a great poetry performance over an Olly Murs tribute act. Though I haven't picked it up yet, I am incredibly eager to read Walking Away now. I ended up getting so much more out of the talk than just hearing a poem I studied at school.