Epic job for laureate of the Dome

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The Independent Online
THEY SAY that poets draw inspiration from the most unlikely of sources. All the same, Simon Armitage has a Herculean task on his hands.

Mr Armitage has been commissioned to write an ode to the Millennium Dome, a building whose beauty has escaped the eye of some beholders. It is to be an epic work, 1,000 lines in all, and he has promised to deliver it by October.

Yesterday, the man regarded as one of Britain's most gifted young poets confessed that it was a daunting assignment. "At the moment, it seems like the world's longest detention," he said.

"I am not yet clear in my own mind where the poem is going to take me. Right now I am just hovering around the launch-pad."

Mr Armitage, 35, is a popular poet and broadcaster whose first collection, Zoom!, published in 1989, was shortlisted for the Whitbread Prize. He is regarded as a contender in the race to succeed Ted Hughes as poet laureate.

His verses on the structure taking shape at Greenwich will be penned during a six-month stint as poet in residence at the Dome. The appointment was announced yesterday by the New Millennium Experience Company (NMEC), which will operate the building.

Yesterday, surrounded by colour photographs of the Dome, Mr Armitage gave a foretaste of what will be his opus magnum.

In the NMEC's boardroom in Victoria, central London, he read one of his existing works, "Two Clocks", which he described as "a Blue Peter poem - one I prepared earlier".

Time will be the theme of the Dome poem, which is to be published in book form and recited by Mr Armitage at public readings. "I want to gauge how far we have come and where we might go in the future," he said. "I see the millennium as a milestone from which to look back and look forward."

He has already decided that the poem will rhyme, 250 times to be precise, although he cautioned: "They won't always be full rhymes and they won't always be at the end of the lines."

Mr Armitage, who will receive pounds 5,000 for the six-month residency, ended with a frank admission. He had not yet set foot in the building that is to be his muse, he said, although he had glimpsed it from across the Thames. "It looked great, all opalescent and shiny."