If Simon Armitage could choose a theme tune, it wouldn’t be ‘Hitler’s Only Got One Ball’. We know this because he’s just stopped reading and cocked an ear as an ice cream van runs circles round the carpark outside his reading. He supposes, he tells the large and mostly grey audience, it might be his protester -- the last time he read at Ledbury Poetry Festival a woman appeared with a placard. ‘It made me feel radical’ he says.
I’m not sure how radical you can be when you’ve just been named Oxford Professor of Poetry. To investigate, I’m following Simon Armitage round Ledbury town centre, to see if he takes radical actions or just goes to the pub. Last time i followed a poet here, he went to the pub. I did too. I’m also curious about Simon Armitage’s suit jacket. It throws me. Somehow I’d imagined a classic Harrington. This slightly crumpled navy blue number seems too ill fitting for poetry royalty. Anyway, here I am not very casually browsing New Korean Poetry while Simon Armitage has a short conversation with the bookshop staff. ‘I’m sorry’, he says, clearly embarrassed, ‘it was the other bookshop’. I look round. No Simon Armitage books on obvious display. Hmm.
Back in the community hall, they turn off the air conditioning and a woman approaches the stage. She introduces him clumsily, admitting that she hasn’t read the book but that she heard him speak on Radio 4. My fears of dying of heat exhaustion in the midst of an aging provincial audience are intensifying. But, he doesn’t disappoint. He’s dry, engaging, and can take you from laughter to stillness in an instant. His poetry and stories are beautiful and rich. He is clearly someone who delights in language. It may take many more miles of trailing him before i have the faintest clue how he does it.
Meave Haughey is a short story writer based in Birmingham. Recent stories have been published in Comma Press’s The New Abject, and Forecast: New Writing from Birmingham, Doestoevsky Wannabe’s Love Bites: Fiction Inspired by Pete Shelley and Buzzcocks and in Birmingham, from the Doestoevsky Wannabe Cities series.
Find more of her writing at her blog Worth the Coming Home.
Outsideleft exists on a precarious no budget budget. We are interested in hearing from deep and deeper pocket types willing to underwrite our cultural vulture activity. We're not so interested in plastering your product all over our stories, but something more subtle and dignified for all parties concerned. Contact us and let's talk. [HELP OUTSIDELEFT]
If Outsideleft had arms they would always be wide open and welcoming to new writers and new ideas. If you've got something to say, something a small dank corner of the world needs to know about, a poem to publish, a book review, a short story, if you love music or the arts or anything else, write something about it and send it along. Of course we don't have anything as conformist as a budget here. But we'd love to see what you can do. Write for Outsideleft, do. [SUBMISSIONS FORM HERE]