There goes rhymin' Simon: Interview: Simon Armitage

Bit of a lad, was Armitage, well before `Loaded'... And eight years after he first shot to fame, he still manages to remain a Nice Ordinary Bloke - as well as Our Best Young Poet (even at 34)

In 1989, a 26-year-old Yorkshireman called Simon Armitage shot to what passes in the poetry world for fame, and certainly wild acclaim, with a debut collection appropriately entitled Zoom!.

How could anyone resist a poem that tells the life-story of a 10p piece ("My own ambition? Well, that was simple: / to be flipped in Wembley's centre circle, / to twist, to turn, to hang like a planet, / to touch down on that emerald carpet"), or one neatly skewering male northern sexism, called "Very Simply Topping Up the Brake Fluid". Bit of a lad was Armitage, well before the days of Loaded, and although it's eight years and almost as many books later, and Armitage is part of the mainstream, no one has usurped his position as Our Best Young Poet.

We meet round the corner from his publishers, the eminent Faber and Faber, who plucked him from Bloodaxe, the Newcastle-based poetry outfit, after the success of Zoom!. His 1992 follow-up, Kid, was equally memorable, zestful, irresistible. One piece ended: "we'd settle this like men: with the gloves on. / I said no, no, no, no, no, no. OK, come on then". Emerging from Faber's hallowed portals, he hasn't got the looks, or locks, of Murray Lachlan Young, the stature of Ted Hughes, the spindly glamour of Hugo Williams. He's a grinning, slightly shy, ordinary bloke.

His latest collection, CloudCuckooLand, id tripartite: a handful of odd poems "mostly based on the place where I live", then a bravura 88- poem sequence named after the constellations, and a verse-play, with teenage characters burdened by such self-consciously poetic names as Klondike, Tulip and Midnight. The book's dedication is bizarre: a page and a half of latinized and French names: "Joties Gudaws in jure Lane ux ejus: Joties Shaw de Orchard".

What's all that about, Simon? "They were the names of the people in the first census of Marsden, where I was born and brought up (and where he still lives). They were the first footers, and there's a sort of myth or folklore in the village that the local people once tried to catch a cuckoo and keep it in a tower so it would be eternally Spring, and I suppose it refers to those people".

Once he'd hit on the idea of a mini-poem per constellation - the Great Bear, Cassiopeia and so forth - Armitage enjoyed the discipline of knocking off one a day. And they may be about stars, but they're frequently down to earth. "Aquarius" begins: "We take exception to that chain of hotels/ that asks us to think of the dying planet/ by skimping on towels and not flushing the toilet./ This is about metered water and laundry bills, isn't it?"

"I have to make myself write, sometimes. In the space between poems, you somehow forget how to do it, where to begin. It was good to be task- based for a while. I just came downstairs each day, picked the one I was going to do that day, and wrote." Still, when one poem reads in its entirety: "On the ceiling - a footfall made with the heel of a hand" and another "Like a handprint - laid with the heel and the toes in sand", it was hardly what the rest of us would call hard graft. He grins. "They were the good days. When you realise it's only going to be a one-liner, you're out of the house by nine o'clock, you're finished." What does he do then? "I might get into Huddersfield, which is a real treat, and go round the shops, have a sandwich and a cake." The excitement! "Oooh, I'd never go there at night" he agrees, sending himself up. "If I'm feeling really exotic, I go to Leeds. Otherwise, I poke around at home, read, write a bit, go for a game of bowls with my dad..."

In "Book of Matches", he wrote movingly, yet jauntily, about a bone disorder, ankylosing spondylitis, which left him "spent, bent / out of line, / a saint, burnt at the stake, / the spine" - "My dear, my skeleton will set like biscuit overnight / like glass, like ice..." He's got it for life, he confirms. "The symptoms come and go. I take these drugs called Indomethicine at night, they're slow-release capsules and they're an absolute foolproof treatment against hangovers. I'm not kidding, they're unbelievable. No matter how much I drink, I'm up at eight the next day, at the top of my form. I let them go at around 30p a capsule..."

He doesn't really do much, he confesses, beyond writing poetry, or reading it. "I even feel guilty if I'm reading a novel, because I think I should be reading Homer again. I don't really know what free time is," he sighs, "because I don't have something to measure it against." That's more likely to mean, I say tartly, that he doesn't really know what work is. He laughs at the probable justice of this. "I was a probation officer for seven years... but you're right, I don't know what work is anymore. It was funny, people said when I gave up work, aren't you scared you won't be living in the real world any more? I thought, is driving round Manchester looking at kids with cigarette burns the real world? It seems pretty bizarre to me. Give me cloud cuckoo land any day!"

`CloudCuckooLand' is published by Faber (pounds 14.99 hardback/pounds 7.99 paperback).

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
ebooksFrom the lifespan of a slug to the distance to the Sun: answers to 500 questions from readers
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Senior Data Scientist (Data Mining, RSPSS, R, AI, CPLEX, SQL)

    £60000 - £70000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Senior Data Sc...

    Law Costs

    Highly Attractive Salary: Austen Lloyd: BRISTOL - This is a very unusual law c...

    Junior VB.NET Application Developer (ASP.NET, SQL, Graduate)

    £28000 - £30000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Junior VB.NET ...

    C# .NET Web Developer (ASP.NET, JavaScript, jQuery, XML, XLST)

    £40000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: C# .NET Web De...

    Day In a Page

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
    She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

    Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

    The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
    American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

    Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

    James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
    Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

    Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

    Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution