Inspiring Older Readers
Simon says : Seeing Simon Armitage reading at Ledbury
The Ledbury Poetry Festival had a particularly good look to it this year. There were plenty of events we could have gone to but for one reason or another they all seemed to clash with other stuff we were doing. Odd how that happens - sitting around doing nothing much for most of the year until, suddenly, there are things we'd want to see and then finding you are double-booked or work commitments get in the way. We did,however, particularly want to see the new Oxford Professor of Poetry, Simon Armitage, who was performing on the first Saturday of the festival and we did - but only by good fortune because although the event had sold out, ironically friends with tickets had themselves double booked and chose the alternative event.
Let me start by saying that Armitage was great entertainment. That in itself is a triumph because the Community Centre venue was not the most conducive to relaxed enjoyment. The space is disturbingly similar to a school PE gym and I could almost hear the voices from the past demanding that I should vault horses or climb ropes and the terrible olfactory illusion of sweaty t-shirts and shorts was never far away. Add to this the fact that on one of the hotter days of the year the air conditioning had to be switched off because of the noise and the fact that the seats were so uncomfortable I thought my lower back had been given an epidural injection, then the poet did a pretty good job.
He was there to talk about his new publication Walking Away in which he goes on a planned hike of a south-western coastal trail as a kind of reprise to his earlier Pennine Way walk documented in Walking Home. Armitage is refreshingly unsentimental about his walk and also about his motives and he doesn't shy away from the fact that both of these jaunts were uncomfortable, inspired much less poetry that he had anticipated and brought him into contact with a wider range of wierdos that anyone might reasonably expect. What is good and, for me unexpected, is that Armitage is clearly a comic talent - it's hard to write genuinely funny prose but he clearly has the ability to find the absurd. But for me comic writing only really works when the ridiculous finds itself in juxtaposition with the profound and this is something Armitage is capable of and he does it in a subtle way without the need to signal his comic timing with whistles and bells. It also helps if you are a natural performer as he clearly is. His no-nonsense personality and reading manner added to the sense of the surreal - Northern poet meets the bizzare and the eccentric.
How eccentric were the people he met on this walk? Well, I would urge you to take a look at the inventory of 'donations' that were left int he sock he passed around as a way of collecting money at the events he did along the way. Phew.....
(image : Paul Wolfgang Webster)