StAnza 2015: Simon Armitage, one of Britain’s best?
Highly accomplished StAnza headliner justifies an ever growing reputation
Simon Armitage began his Saturday night headliner set at StAnza Poetry Festival in St Andrews with a comic poem about airports. 'Thank you for waiting', it began, before the voice in the poem – taking the form of a flight attendant inviting passengers to begin boarding – listed the groups of people who would be allowed to board first.
The invitation was first extended only to passengers who had paid to be part of dizzyingly specific special-access clubs, starting with First Class passengers, before moving on to 'Exclusive, Superior, Privilege and Excelsior members, followed by Triple, Double and Single Platinum members, followed by Gold, Silver, Bronze card members, followed by Pearl and Coral Club members.' On the list went, until finally passengers at the level of 'loam' and 'chalk', the lowest of the low, were invited to board.
It was the beginning of a reading that was occasionally almost a comedy routine as much as a poetry reading, but nevertheless studded with poignancy. Armitage, whose book of Selected Poems, Paper Aeroplane, was published last year, read several poems about flight and air travel, as well as 'elegiac' work about his father (who is still very much alive). Sometimes these themes intersected: one poem recalled a moment when his father had told a young Simon Armitage to cut the hedge. His father had then picked Simon up and put him on top of the hedge to look up at the sky, suspended between air and earth on a dream-like, insubstantial structure of leaves and twigs.
Armitage’s poems about the natural world also included work written to be engraved on standing stones in Yorkshire, on a trail named the Stanza Stones (no relation to the St Andrews poetry festival). The depth of the engraving means that the poems will still be legible in 1000 years’ time, in defiance of rain and frost. Armitage read ’The Beck’, the poem engraved at Backstone Beck, 'where water unbinds/ and hangs at the waterfall’s face, and/ just for that one, stretched white moment/ becomes lace.'
With a string of successful collections and accolades including the Forward Prize, the Keats-Shelley Poetry Prize and a CBE, Armitage is one of the most recognised poets working in Britain at the moment, and his accomplished, varied and hugely likeable reading at StAnza justified his reputation.
Simon Armitage appeared at StAnza: Scotland’s Poetry Festival on Sat 7 Mar 2015.