A word with Poet Laureate Simon Armitage before his York Theatre Royal shows

Power of the pen: Poet Laureate Simon Armitage

YORKSHIREMAN Simon Armitage performs in York tonight and tomorrow for the first time since being appointed Poet Laureate last May.

The 56-year-old Huddersfield poet is presenting Seeing Stars: An Evening With Simon Armitage at York Theatre Royal in two fundraising shows to support the theatre’s community work.

Confirmed to be joining Armitage for the 7.30pm shows are actors Kacey Ainsworth (best known for playing Little Mo in EastEnders), Richard Bremmer, Charlotte Mills and Tom Kanji.

Curated by Scarborough-born theatre director Nick Bagnall, Seeing Stars features readings from Armitage’s works inspired by Sir Gawain And The Green Knight and The Death Of King Arthur on the tenth anniversary of Seeing Stars, his “very dramatic, very theatrical” book of dramatic monologues, allegories and absurdist tall tales.

Nine months into his Poet Laureateship, how would Armitage, the first Professor of Poetry at Leeds University, define poetry? “I’ve always taken the view that poetry is not just one thing,” he says.

“There have been recent times when people think it’s just words in a book, but performance has always been important and that has come back into fashion and been re-imagined too with spoken-word slams. There is room for everybody creating the language.”

Armitage continues: “One of the roles of the Poet Laureate, as I see it, is to promote poetry and speak up for the arts.

” I know it can have a strange effect on people when you say you’re a poet,” says Poet Laureate Simon Armitage

“My feeling is, if you’re involved with the arts, you’re more comfortable with yourself and you bring that to the inner universe you exist in, even if it’s only being more comfortable about language and how you think.”

At a time of cutbacks in arts funding and schools putting science before the arts in the curriculum, Armitage says: “You stifle creativity at your peril because, if you don’t offer an outlet, if you antagonise, it will still find a way out.”

Where does Armitage see sitting poets sitting in the public’s perception in 2020? As minstrels? Prophets? Commentators? Outsiders? “I know it can have a strange effect on people when you say you’re a poet. Definitely there’s something of the outside, the alternative, about it,” he says.

“It’s been a ‘peculiar’, not ever a mainstream, artform but I think people have a soft spot in their heart for poetry, especially at moments in their life, happy or sad, whether reading it or even writing it in those moments, so I still don’t think it’s a remote artform.”

As for his aims in his ten-year tenure as Poet Laureate, Armitage says: “By the end of those ten years, I would like to have seen my projects come to fruition [such as the newly founded Laurel Prize for nature poems and the establishing of a National Centre for Poetry].

“I’d also like to be judged for my writing, either myself seeking to maintain standards, or writing in a communicative, engaging way, and my Poet Laureate poems have to satisfy me too.”

Seeing Stars: An Evening With Simon Armitage, York Theatre Royal, tonight and tomorrow, February 4 and 5, 7.30pm. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk