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Simon Armitage

1963–

Simon Armitage was born on May 26, 1963, in the village of Marsden, in West Yorkshire, England. He received an undergraduate degree from Portsmouth University in geography, followed by a master's degree in social work from Manchester University where he researched the impact of television violence on young offenders. Before he began to write full-time, Armitage worked as probation officer in Greater Manchester for six years.

Armitage is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including The Unaccompanied (Faber & Faber, 2017); Paper Aeroplane: Selected Poems 1989-2014 (Faber & Faber, 2014); The Shout: Selected Poems (Harcourt, 2005), which was shortlisted for the National Book Critics Circle Award, as well as a translation of the middle English classic Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (W.W. Norton, 2007), and Homer's Odyssey (2006), a retelling of the ancient Greek epic by Homer.

His earlier volumes include Xanadu (1992), Kid (1992), Book of Matches (1993), The Dead Sea Poems (1995), CloudCuckooLand (1997), Killing Time (1999), Travelling Songs (2002), The Universal Home Doctor (2002), and Tyrannosaurus Rex Versus the Corduroy Kid (2006).

Widely considered an inheritor of Philip Larkin's dark wit, Armitage has become one of England's most respected poets. A reviewer for the Sunday Times in England wrote: "Armitage creates a muscular but elegant language of his own out of slangy, youthful, up-to-the-minute jargon and the vernacular of his native Northern England. He combines this with an easily worn erudition...and the benefit on unblinkered experience...to produce poems of moving originality."

Armitage is the recipient of numerous awards for poetry, including the Sunday Times Young Author of the Year, a Forward Prize, and a Lannan Award. Several of his collections have been short-listed for the Whitbread Poetry Prize, and his first book, Zoom! (1989), was a Poetry Society Book Choice.

He is the author of two novels, Little Green Man (2001) and The White Stuff (2004), as well as the memoir All Points North (1998), a Yorkshire Post Book of the Year. Armitage also writes widely for radio, television, film, and theater. His recent work includes a libretto for the opera The Assassin Tree, which premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2006, and the play Mister Heracles, a version of the Euripides play, The Madness of Heracles.

Frequently blending genres, his film Xanadu (1992) was described as "a poem film for television," and appeared on BBC television during their "Words on Film" series. He also authored a film about Weldon Kees, and co-wrote Moon Country with Glyn Maxwell, which retraced the 1936 trip to Iceland taken by W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice.

Armitage is the coeditor, with Robert Crawford, of The Penguin Anthology of Poetry from Britain and Ireland Since 1945, and also edited Short and Sweet – 101 Very Short Poems, as well as a selection of poetry by Ted Hughes.

In 2019 Armitage was named the poet laureate of the United Kingdom. He teaches at the University of Leeds and currently serves as the Professor of Poetry of the University of Oxford. He has also taught at the University of Iowa Writers' Workshop, the University of Sheffield, the University of Falmouth, Manchester Metropolitan University, and Princeton University, among others. 

Simon Armitage

By This Poet

3

Gooseberry Season

Which reminds me. He appeared
at noon, asking for water. He’d walked from town
after losing his job, leaving me a note for his wife and his brother
and locking his dog in the coal bunker.
We made him a bed

and he slept till Monday.
A week went by and he hung up his coat.
Then a month, and not a stroke of work, a word of thanks,
a farthing of rent or a sign of him leaving.
One evening he mentioned a recipe

for smooth, seedless gooseberry sorbet
but by then I was tired of him: taking pocket money
from my boy at cards, sucking up to my wife and on his last night
sizing up my daughter. He was smoking my pipe
as we stirred his supper.

Where does the hand become the wrist?
Where does the neck become the shoulder? The watershed
and then the weight, whatever turns up and tips us over that
   razor’s edge
between something and nothing, between 
one and the other. 

I could have told him this
but didn't bother. We ran him a bath
and held him under, dried him off and dressed him
and loaded him into the back of the pick-up.
Then we drove without headlights

to the county boundary,
dropped the tailgate, and after my boy
had been through his pockets we dragged him like a mattress
across the meadow and on the count of four
threw him over the border.

This is not general knowledge, except
in gooseberry season, which reminds me, and at the table
I have been known to raise an eyebrow, or scoop the sorbet
into five equal portions, for the hell of it.
I mention this for a good reason.

Dämmerung

In later life I retired from poetry,
ploughed the profits
into a family restaurant
in the town of Holzminden, in lower Saxony.

It was small and traditional:
dark wood panelling, deer antlers,
linen tablecloths and red candles,
one beer tap on the bar

and a dish of the day, usually
Bauernschnitzel. Weekends were busy,
pensioners wanting the set meal, though
year on year takings were falling.

Some nights the old gang came in –
Jackie, Max, Lavinia,
Mike not looking at all himself,
and I’d close the kitchen,

hang up my striped apron,
take a bottle of peach schnapps
from the top shelf and say,
“Mind if I join you?”

“Are we dead yet?” someone would ask.
Then with a plastic toothpick
I’d draw blood from my little finger
to prove we were still among the living.

From the veranda we’d breathe new scents
from the perfume distillery over the river,
or watch the skyline
for the nuclear twilight.

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