Leeds University Library

Simon Armitage reads his poetry

Published Friday 4 May 2012

Simon Armitage

From Homer to Poundland - and London 2012

The Library and University of Leeds Poetry Centre were delighted to welcome Simon Armitage on Wednesday evening for an informative and engaging reading of his poems and "non-poems" to a predominantly student audience.

The local poet and author read from a wide selection of his poetry, including Tyrannosaurus Rex Versus The Corduroy Kid and the playfully absurd Seeing Stars, weaving connections between ancient Greek mythology, the Olympics and Poetry Parnassus, memories of growing up in Marsden and the here-and-now.

In a Q&A session - or "a bit of a chat" - Simon reflected on his growing archive, held in the Library's Special Collections, and described the sobering task of looking through his past for a recent Radio 4 documentary "The Brotherton Archive and Me". 

"I tend to think it's not good for creativity, exhuming old work or trying to recuscitate something that was always struggling to breathe in the first place." He expressed surprise at how much of the material is half-formed or incomplete: "That is a possibility with poems, though - you can spend time on a poem that doesn't work and not feel as if you've wasted your life, unlike for a novelist when it could be three or four years down the line before you realise that that project is no good, which is a bit crushing really... There's a lot of evidence of experimentation as well."

In response to a follow-up question:

"It's easy to make bad poetry and we've all got a lot of bad poetry in us.  The worst kind of poems are predictable, because they're insulting to the reader and ask little of the reader's imagination or intellect. The really bad ones are sentimental, and it's hard to know where to draw that line."

"There's things up there in a locked box which are poems that I've written about things that have happened in my family, which have been very meaningful and significant to me, and I've decided not to publish them. But it isn't because they make me feel vulnerable or exposed in some way, it's just because they're not working really as pieces of art, there's not enough detachment somehow, there's not enough artifice. Poems aren't diary entries; they can take the form of diary entries, but they're not. When they work they are pieces of art. At least, when I sit down to write that's what I'm trying to create, even if it involves writing about personal experience."

Simon concluded with "Evening", a poem he described as "sentimental and predictable", though his delighted audience disagreed.