“It’s never going to be very mainstream. One reason is that poetry requires concentration, both on the part of the writer and the reader. But it’s kind of unkillable, poetry. It’s our most ancient artform and I think it’s more relevant today than ever, because it’s one person saying what they really believe.” Simon Armitage
Last month saw poet, playwright, novelist, and DJ Simon Armitage‘s appointment as Poet Laureate, U.K. succeeding Scots poet Carol Ann Duffy. The term of the appointment is ten years.
Productive and versital, Armitage’s poetry collections include Book of Matches (1993) and The Dead Sea Poems (1995). He has written two novels, Little Green Man (2001) and The White Stuff (2004), as well as All Points North (1998), a collection of essays on Northern England. He produced a dramatised version of Homer’s Odyssey (2006) and a collection of poetry entitled Tyrannosaurus Rex Versus The Corduroy Kid (2006), which was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize. Many of Armitage’s poems appear in the Assessment and Qualifications Alliance GCSE syllabus for English Literature in the United Kingdom. These include Homecoming, Extract from Out of the Blue, November, Kid, Hitcher, and a selection of poems from Book of Matches, most notably of these Mother any distance…. His work also appears on CCEA’s GCSE English Literature course.
Armitage work is characterised by a dry Yorkshire wit combined with “an accessible, realist style and critical seriousness.” His translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (2007), was adopted for the ninth edition of The Norton Anthology of English Literature and he was the narrator of a 2010 BBC documentary about the poem and its use of landscape.
Armitage also writes for radio, television, film and stage. He is the author of five stage plays, including Mister Heracles, a version of Euripides‘ The Madness of Heracles. The Last Days of Troy premiered at Shakespeare’s Globe in June 2014. He was commissioned in 1996 by the National Theatre in London to write Eclipse for the National Connections series, a play inspired by the real-life disappearance of a girl in Hebden Bridge, and set at the time of the 1999 solar eclipse in Cornwall.
Most recently Armitage wrote the libretto for an opera scored by Scottish composer Stuart MacRae, The Assassin Tree, based on a Greek myth recounted in The Golden Bough. The opera premiered at the 2006 Edinburgh International Festival, Scotland, before moving to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. Saturday Night (Century Films, BBC2, 1996): he wrote and narrated a fifty-minute poetic commentary to a documentary about night-life in Leeds, directed by Brian Hill. In 2010, Armitage walked the 264-mile Pennine Way, walking south from Scotland to Derbyshire. Along the route he stopped to give poetry readings, often in exchange for donations of money, food or accommodation, despite the rejection of the free life seen in his 1993 poem Hitcher, and has written a book about his journey, called Walking Home.
He has received numerous awards for his poetry, including The Sunday Times Author of the Year, a Forward Prize, a Lannan Award, and an Ivor Novello Award for his song lyrics in the Channel 4 film Feltham Sings. Kid and Cloud Cuckoo Land were short-listed for the Whitbread poetry prize. The Dead Sea Poems was short-listed for the Whitbread, the Forward Poetry Prize and the T. S. Eliot Prize. The Universal Home Doctor was also short-listed for the T.S. Eliot. In 2000, he was the UK’s official Millennium Poet and went on to judge the 2005 Griffin Poetry Prize, the 2006 Man Booker Prize for Fiction and the 2010 Manchester Poetry Prize.
In 2004, Armitage was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 2010 Birthday Honours. He is a vice president of the Poetry Society and a patron of the Arvon Foundation.
In 2007 Armitage released an album of songs co-written with the musician Craig Smith, under the band name The Scaremongers.
For the Stanza Stones Trail, which runs through 47 miles (76 km) of the Pennine region, Armitage composed six new poems. With the help of local expert Tom Lonsdale and letter-carver Pip Hall, the poems were carved into stones at secluded sites. A book, containing the poems and the accounts of Lonsdale and Hall, was produced as a record of that journey and was published by Enitharmon Press.
In 2016 the arts program 14-18 NOW commissioned a series of poems by Simon Armitage as part of a five-year program of new artwork created specifically to mark the centenary of the First World War. The poems are a response to six aerial or panoramic photographs of battlefields from the archive of the Imperial War Museum in London. The poetry collection “Still” premiered at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival and has been published in partnership with Enitharmon Press.
“Prose fills a space, like a liquid poured in from the top, but poetry occupies it, arrays itself in formation, sets up camp and refuses to budge.” Simon Armitage, Walking Home: A Poet’s Journey
Simon Armitage Amazon Page U.K. HERE
Simon Armitage Amazon Page U.S. HERE
Schedule of upcoming events HERE
Armitage official website HERE
This post is courtesy of The Poetry Society, Wikipedia, Amazon, Armitage website, and my bookshelf
The Poetry Society is the UK’s national organisation for poety. It was founded in 1906 to promote a “more general recognitions and appreciation of poetry.” Since then, it has grown into one of Britain’s most dynamic arts organisations, representing British poetry both nationally and internatonally with innovative education and commission programs and a packed calendar of performances, readings and competitions, the Poetry Society champions poetry for all ages. It publishes the leading U.K. poetry magazine, The Poetry Review. The Poetry Society also runs the National Poetry Competitions, the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award and the youth performance poetry championship SLAMbassadors U.K. The U.K. has been consistant in its support of poetry and poets through its Poet Laureate progam beginning in 1668 with John Dryden.
Recent in digital publications:
* Four poems , I Am Not a Silent Poet * Remembering Mom, HerStry
* Three poems, Levure littéraire Upcoming in digital publications: Over His Morning Coffee, Front Porch Review From the Small Beginning, Entropy Magazine (Enclave, #Final Poems)
A homebound writer, poet, and former columnist and associate editor of a regional employment newspaper, my work has been featured widely in print and digital publications including: Ramingo’s Porch, Vita Brevis Literature, Connotation Press,The Bar None Group, Salamander Cove, I Am Not a Silent Poet, The Compass Rose and California Woman. I run The Poet by Day, a curated info hub for poets and writers and am the founding/managing editor of The BeZine.
“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.” Lucille Clifton
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JOHN ANSTIE (My Poetry Library and 42) ~ is a British singer, musician, poet and contributing writer to The BeZine. John self-describes as a “Family man, Grandfather, Occasional Musician, Singer, Amateur photographer and Film-maker, Apple-MAC user, Implementation Manager, and Engineer”.
John has participated in d’Verse Poet’s Pub and is a player in New World Creative Union as well as a being a ‘spoken-voice’ participant in Roger Allen Baut’s excellent ‘Blue Sky Highway’ radio broadcasts. He’s been blogging since the beginning of 2011. He is also a member of The Poetry Society (UK).
Recent publications are anthologies resulting from online collaborations among two international groups of amateur and professional poets. One of these is The Grass Roots Poetry Group (Petrichor Rising*). The other group is d’Verse Poet Pub, in which John’s poetry also appears in The d’VerseAnthology:Voices of Contemporary World Poetry, produced and edited by Frank Watson.
When I learned that Myra would be celebrating her 80th birthday this June, I figured I’d better grab her for an interview before anyone else pounces. Having said that, I don’t think I was the first in line. Who wouldn’t want to gather and savor the voice of so much experience: eleven collections of poetry, children’s books, author of Writing My Way Through Cancer and, with John Killick, Writing Yourself: Transforming Personal Material. Myra has collaborated on more anthologies than I can count, is a poetry coach and champion of women poets, a consultant to Second Light Network of Women Poets and a poetry editor. Myra’s professional life seems like it is and always has been quite full and busy. Yet along the way – even when coping with catastrophic illness – Myra is able to take a breath and pen …
Today there is time
to contemplate the way life
opens, claims, parts, savour
its remembered rosemaries,
spreading purples, tight
white edges of hope, to travel
the meanings of repair, tug
words that open parachutes.
excerpt from Today There Is Time in Writing My Way Through Cancer
JAMIE: I know your interest in poetry started quite early in life. As you look back through the lens of long life, how have your preferences, interests and style of poetry changed and why?
MYRA: By the time I’d finished at university at the beginning of the 1960s I was steeped in poetry of the past. As well as Shakespeare and Chaucer I loved Anglo-Saxon poetry, John Donne, Wordsworth and the other Romantic poets, also Gerard Manley-Hopkins. I expected poetry to be intense, spiritual and often about the natural world. My knowledge of twentieth century poetry was limited mainly to T S Eliot, some poems by Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath and the war poets, all of whom I was excited by. However, the poetry scene in London, where I lived and still do, was pretentious at that time and male-dominated. I was soon put off poetry and for several years I read and wrote very little. When I came back to it I gradually began to read much more widely: contemporary British poets such as Seamus Heaney, Gillian Clarke, Anne Cluysenaar, Mimi Khalvati and John Burnside, and poets from further afield such as Derek Walcott and Les Murray. I also read American poets as varied as Elizabeth Bishop, Mark Doty, Louise Gluck and Philip Levine. I particularly like the expansiveness I have found in American poetry. Intensity and spirituality and the natural world are still central to me but my view of what they include has greatly widened which has influenced my own writing. This, over time, has become much more honed and also more varied in style and subject matter.
JAMIE: Has your way of organizing yourself changed overtime; for example, the times that you write, when you do revisions and so forth?
MYRA: When I started writing I did not think much about the writing process. I tended to write down whatever came into my head for poem and then draft it letting it take whatever shape it seemed to fall into. Very occasionally I wrote a rhyming poem in regular verses. Later, I thought much harder about form and also in the 1990s I started to keep a notebook in which I jotted down words, ideas and details for poems. Around this time I discovered the poem worked much better if I spent a longer time working on the material and trying out the form it might go into before I started drafting unless, which happened rarely, a poem suggested itself and its shape very clearly. I found out too that allowing raw material to incubate either for a day or two or much longer frequently helped me to see what to do with it. Now I often work on more than one poem at a time – one that’s in its late stage and needing revision and one at an early stage. My main writing time has always been in the morning but I sometimes work on poems later in the day or on a train journey. In addition a certain amount of ‘writing’ goes on in my head and this could be at any time of the day or night – I might see how to cope with a problematic line or an idea for a new poem might start germinating.
JAMIE:What – if anything – has changed in terms of inspiration for poetry?
MYRA: When I started to write I had a very strong need to explore personal material – my childhood and my difficult relationships with my parents. Beyond that my poems were mainly triggered by my immediate reactions to the natural world and my teaching experience of severely disabled adults. A much greater range of subjects inspires me to write now. These include the role of women which I have explored in a number of ways, also issues like the environment, violence and the refugee problem. I feel a need too to write longer narrative poems which explore relationships and usually an issue or a theme in depth. For several years now many of my short poems have been set off by something apparently small: making tea in my yellow teapot, a painting or a small occurrence such as watching an old man running in long grass. The poem then follows a line of shifting thought aroused by the object or occurrence and takes in more than one subject. I firmly believe the most everyday material can connect with serious subject matter. My poem In theBeginning, which follows a line of thought about the big bang theory, starts and ends with a cat bowl.
JAMIE:What suggestions would you make to someone just beginning to write poetry?
MYRA: The first thing I would mention is the importance of reading a wide range of contemporary poets and I would also advise the reading of some key poets from the past. Poetry is a craft as well as an art and it’s crucial to discover how poets use different techniques and to learn as much as possible from outstanding poets about how they write. Elizabeth Bishop is a very good person to study as she uses both strict and free forms brilliantly and also tackles her subject matter in a variety of ways. There is an invaluable book, How to Read a Poem by Edward Hirsch, which looks in depth at how to read a poem and it includes a useful glossary which explains poetic terms. Quite soon after starting to write I would advise learning about the full range of poetic forms. This can be done either in a class or from a book, preferably one that’s been recommended. If at all possible I also suggest joining a poetry class or workshop which offers rigorous but supportive feedback.
JAMIE:And finally, what is the job of the poet, what is the place of poetry in our lives and in the greater world?
MYRA: I believe the role of the poet is to reflect on human experience and the world we live in and to articulate it for oneself and others. Many people who suffer a loss or go through a trauma feel a need for poetry to give voice to their grief and to support them through a difficult time. When an atrocity is committed poems are a potent way of expressing shock and anger, also of bearing witness. I think that the poet can write forcefully, using a different approach from a journalist, about subjects such as climate change, violence, abuse and mental illness and that this is meaningful to others. I very much believe too that poetry is a way of celebrating life. I think it deserves a central place in our world.
IN THE BEGINNING
Wheatflakes in a chestnut-brown bowl, thinking
slowed down by sleep: the morning is the same
as any other. But no repeat is exact –
the cloud cover is thicker/thinner, skin
a day more creased, closer to dust.
And this morning is marked by tufts of sparrow
on the floor: the machine that laced a small body
with blood has been stopped. The postman’s late.
Headlines exclaim from the paper. When I put on
the right glasses I discover today is momentous.
Scientists have proved the big bang they believe
set off the universe. Trying to follow, I soon
flounder among technical terms, am rescued
by the tulips standing on the breadcrumbed counter.
Their parrot scarlet sings and sings in my head.
If I’m to get a grip on time and space
I must widen my field of vision. Outside,
car tyres hiss. As drivers slow
at the roundabout they’ll read: ‘Jesus is alive’,
chalked in pigeon-dropping white on a support
of the railway bridge. I question this slogan
as I swoop underneath in my crimson Mini estate…
If I’m to understand I must study sciences
for decades, and focus on a past before bridges
arched, before Jesus walked on water,
before ape men squatted in caves,
before dinosauars lumbered,
before leaves fleshed steaming forests,
before rocks hardened,
before the Earth was flung into orbit round the Sun,
before the birth of galaxies now burnt out,
before matter scattered.
Warm fingers black with newsprint, I tremble
at the dark and shapelessness before the beginning,
the mystery of something grown out of nothing,
the changes that led to the kickstart moment
when space ballooned and time began.
Today has shrunk too small to tackle but from habit
I pour Go Cat for the murderer. A petal
falls. The post flaps onto the mat. I pick up
your letter, and suddenly nothing in the universe
is more important than reading your words.
NOTE: Originally published here about two years ago, this post is worthy of a wider audience and more than one read; and so, with some additions, I post it again for the benefit new readers and old. Among other things, the evolution of Mary’s poetic grace in her maturity is certain inspiration for those who come to their art late in life as she did. Enjoy …
Mary MacRae “wrote and published poetry for only the last ten years of her life, after ill-health forced her to take early retirement from teaching. She taught for 15 years at the James Allen Girls School (JAGS), Dulwich, London. Her commitment to writing led to her deep involvement with the first years of the Poetry School under Mimi Khalvati, studying with Mimi and Myra Schneider, whose advanced poetry workshop she attended for 8 years. In these groups her exceptional talent was quickly recognised, leading to publication in many magazines and anthologies.” MORE (Second Light Live)
A breathing space:
the house expands around me,
· unfolds elastic lungs
drowsing me back ·
to other times and rooms
where I’ve sat alone
writing, as I do now,
when syncope – ·
one two three one two –
breaks in; ·
the half-glazed door with colour, ·
enamelled the elder tree
whose ebony drops ·
hang in rich clusters
on shining scarlet stalks ·
while with one swift stab
the fresh-as-paint ·
starlings get to the heart
of the matter
of matter ·
in a gulp of flesh
and clotted juice that leaves me ·
gasping for words transparent
as glass, as air.
My profound gratitude to poet Myra Schneider for the introduction to a new-to-me poet, Mary MacRae, and to poet Dilys Wood of The Second Light Network (England) for granting this interview. Jamie Dedes
JAMIE: Clearly, and as has been stated by others, Mary was profoundly inspired by art, nature (particularly flowers and gardens), and love. What can you tell us about her life and interests that would account for that?
DILYS: Mary writes tender and accurate poems about wild nature, creatures and landscape, drawing on her stays in a cottage on an untamed part of the coast in Kent, England and visits to her daughter living in remote West Wales. In her London home, it’s easy to guess from her poems about garden birds and flowers how much time she spent at the window. She almost always sees nature in flux, changing moment by moment, unpredictable, mysterious, a spiritual inspiration. One of her great strengths as a poet is catching movement.
Many of Mary’s poems focus on love between close family members. This may relate to a difficult relationship with her own father, which she sought to understand, and the relationships which compensated (with mother, sister, husband Lachlan, daughter and grandchild). A back problem prevented her from holding her baby daughter and she often refers in her poems to young children. She clearly has a yearning towards them.
JAMIE: She wrote poetry apparently only at the end of her life and for ten years. What were her creative outlets before that? How did she come to poetry?
DILYS: Mary was a dedicated teacher of English Literature and language in a leading girls’ secondary school. She was also deeply interested in music and painting (these are strongly reflected in her poetry). Though she had written as a young woman she followed the pattern of many women creative artists in becoming absorbed into her home life and her paid work, only turning to writing when her illness released her from the daily grind of intensive teaching. The remarkable, rapid development of her poetry shows how strong her latent powers really were.
JAMIE: Was writing poetry a part of her healing process when she was diagnosed with cancer? If so, how did it help her?
DILYS: I’m confident that Mary’s diagnosis with cancer enabled her to change her life-style and from then on concentrate on her poetry, urged by the sense that she might be short of time. There is no evidence that Mary wrote therapeutically to come to terms with her cancer. In fact she only ever addressed her illness in relation to the possible unkindness of fate in cutting her off from beloved people and life itself. The poems written in the last 2-3 years of her life give the impression that her dedication to writing, with the spiritual experiences which accompanied it, enabled her to bear terrible distress. She records this distress, using imaginative and metaphorical approaches to focus it, and these poems make heart-wrenching reading.
JAMIE: Can you tell us about her process? When did she write? Where? For how long?
DILYS: I have the impression that Mary’s life revolved around three things, people she loved, gathering experiences that would feed her poetry (travel, listening to music, visiting galleries) and very hard work in direct furtherance of her writing (extensive reading, attending workshops with other inspirational poets, writing, revising and submitting her poems to criticism from critics she respected). She used notebooks to make a full, accurate record of those experiences – landscapes, human encounters, thoughts – that would feed her work. There is an extract from one such entry in the section about keeping a journal in the resource book Writing Your Self, Transforming Personal Material by Myra Schneider and John Killick. This book also includes a contribution in the chapter on spirituality which reveals much about Mary’s attitudes to life, nature and also her writing process.
JAMIE: Do you have any advice from her for other poets and aspiring poets?
DILYS: Mary was a dedicated writer, entirely sincere in her commitment to poetry as opposed to ‘career’ as a poet. She was always ready to enjoy and praise the widest range of subject-matter, approaches and styles from other poets, providing she thought they were ‘busting a gut’ to get their poems right, and not indulging in the trendy or superficial, which she despised (whether from well-knowns or unknowns). She put much emphasis on wide-reading of both past and contemporary poets and she herself had absorbed a huge amount of other poets’ work, always quoting fully and accurately. She liked using another’s work as a starting pont for her own (the Glose) and particularly admired the work in strict form (including Sonnet, Villanelle and Ghazal), which began to be more acceptable from the mid-1990s (eg from such poets as Marilyn Hacker and Mimi Khalvati).
JAMIE: Are any other collections of her poetry planned? If so, when might we look forward to them?
DILYS: When putting together ‘Inside the Brightness of Red’, Myra Schneider and I went through the whole of Mary’s unpublished work and selected all those poems we felt were both complete and would have satisfied her high standards. What remains unpublished would be mainly fragments and early versions of poems she did more work on. There will not, as far as we know, be a further book, but Mary did achieve her aim of being a significant lyric poet, whose work is very attractive, polished and, above all (as she would have wished) deeply moving and consolatory.
* The Second Light Network aims to promote women’s poetry and to help women poets, especially but not only older women poets develop their work. It runs weekends of workshops and readings in London usually twice a year, a residential extended workshop with readings and discussions at least once every 18 months and occasional other events. It is nationwide and includes and some members who live outside Britain altogether. Importantly Dilys is the main editor of ARTEMIS poetry a major poetry magazine for women produced by Second Light twice a year for all women poets. It includes a lot of reviews and some articles as well as poetry. Second L. members receive it free as part of their subscription. An e-newsletter is sent out every few weeks. A few anthologies of poetry have been published by the network but now this magazine has been developed books are only produced in special circumstances – such as Mary’s collections.