On Wednesday 2nd October, Simon Armitage will be talking at Durham Johnston Comprehensive School, marking a special end to a day of Durham Book Festival events for primary and secondary school pupils. The recipient of numerous prizes and awards during his celebrated career, extending right up to the present day from 1989 and the publication of Zoom!, his first full-length collection of poetry, Armitage has become one of Britain’s best-loved poets.
Familiar to many students, perhaps, as a central part of the English Literature GCSE syllabus of recent years, Armitage’s poetry and ability to distil often profound thoughts into few words has become almost public property. Who else remembers that unravelling spool of tape between mother and son in ‘Mother, any distance…’? Stretched “to breaking point” and representing the “years between us”, it symbolises the speaker’s desire to navigate the difficult passage between childhood and the enticing, “endless sky” of an adulthood full of possibilities – the chance “to fall or fly”. Or maybe you can recall the rebellious Robin of ‘Kid’ who – “Holy robin-redbreast-nest-egg-shocker!” – is no longer content to stand in Batman’s shadow?
However, even if these examples are unfamiliar, it is easy to see why they are so compelling. Armitage is imbues even inanimate objects like the measuring tape with a genuinely moving and meaningful symbolism with the same deft touch by which he humorously and compassionately animates Batman’s Robin afresh – why, we ask, would he not feel that way about his maltreatment by Batman? And does he not deserve a little more recognition? Indeed, such is the reader drawn into the worlds of Armitage’s speakers that, even when confronted with a character we certainly know to be fictional, coming from comic books, we do not stop to think that he could never even have existed. It is the sense of familiarity in Armitage’s poetry – it often seems effortlessly relatable and engaging – that enables the reader to engage with his diverse subjects in ways that are highly personal.
It would be wrong to suggest that Armitage’s work is not varied though, and one need only look to his acclaimed translation of the 14th-century Middle English romance Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (2007) for proof. Given that this event may draw upon any aspect of his work, with advertising stating only that it is “open to schools and the public” and may be of particular interest to KS4 students (aged between 14 and 16), it would be ill-advised to predict its subject. Any reader appreciative of Simon Armitage’s work would surely find attendance worthwhile.
Please visit durhambookfestival.com if you are interested in purchasing tickets for this event on Wednesday 2nd October between 6.30pm and 7.30pm, at Durham Johnston Comprehensive School. Tickets for over-18s are £7.