Writers In Cornwall: Simon Armitage

Photo credits: Poetry Foundation / Telegraph

Photo credits: Poetry Foundation / Telegraph

Simon Armitage is a British playwright, novelist and multi-award-winning poet, including the Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year - 1993, the Keats-Shelley Prize - 2010 and the Cholmondeley Award in 2014. With his use of sharp wit, humour and colloquialism, Armitage has increasingly become regarded as the face of accessible poetry. His step away from the more traditional rules and media of poetry has widened his demographic and propelled his work, for example his production of The Odyssey, which received the Gold Award at the Spoken Word Awards in 2005, was showcased on Channel 4 and BBC Radio 4.

National Portrait Gallery

National Portrait Gallery

Simon Armitage has joined us at Falmouth University as a visiting professor on a number of occasions, most recently at the Professorial Lecture Series 2015-16. Though Armitage’s connection to Cornwall does not stop at the university, he was also commissioned by the National Youth Theatre to write Eclipse for their 21st Connections Festival. A play based on the disappearance of a young girl in Hebden Bridge during the 1999 solar eclipse in Cornwall.  

Furthermore, in 2015 Armitage wrote Walking Away a book which recounts his walking journey along the South West Coastal Path. It is considered as a somewhat sequel to his previous work in 2012, Walking Home which looked at his travels across the Pennine Way towards his hometown of Marsden. Though Walking Away isn't particularly a piece of poetry, the lyrical quality that surrounds Armitage's uncensored thoughts about his walking tour demonstrates to us why he is one of Britain's most celebrated poets. For example, his description of Tresco Island elegantly connects the reader to what he was seeing: 

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"The beaches on its west coast, beyond the dunes, are genuinely and naturally beautiful, not to mention eye-wateringly bright when the sun ricochets off the white pebbles and platinum-coloured sand."  

The special aspect of Walking Away isn't only that we are taken around the Cornish Coast, but that we visualize it through Armitage's eyes; he doesn't display any pretence with his descriptions. At the beginning of his journey, Armitage tells us of the wonder he feels when looking upon the coastal path. Yet like all of us have most likely experienced, we become accustomed to the beauty of our surroundings, where we are no longer thrilled by the magic. Armitage strikingly shows this as he talks about his stretch from Newquay to St Agnes:  

"Bays, coves, inlets, cliffs, porths, the sky, the sea, Tre-this, Tre-that, Tre-the other ...either I'm becoming so familiar that I'm beginning to take the splendour and beauty for granted, or I'm tired of it." 

Allowing for the truth that we can easily become so acclimatized to the wonder that is the sights of the South West Coast Path, the fact that Armitage has addressed this feeling in his work, and shown us his raw thoughts, reinforces the relatability factor that many receive from Armitage's work. He makes the conscious effort not to overly romanticize Cornwall which is so often done, but explore the same uncut, rustic point of view which we see among the Cornish vistas: 

" […] Or perhaps it's the very richness of the visual experience that I'm starting to react against it, as if the extravagance of these seascapes and coastal vistas has made my eyes hungry for something simpler." 

Armitage's voice really does speak for itself, throughout the book, we are constantly met with his honest, authentic thought poetics. 

When we think of Simon Armitage, Cornwall might not be the first thing that comes to mind though it must be said that our Cornish scenes have continually inspired his works.  

by Daniella Ferguson-Djaba