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An Afternoon with Simon Armitage

Written by Francesca Dolan, 4th February 2022

Last month we were lucky enough to host over 100 guests online for an afternoon of Shared Reading followed by a poetry reading and Q&A from Poet Laureate, Simon Armitage. 

The session began with attendees settling in to enjoy an hour of Shared Reading, led by one of our friendly trained Reader Leaders. Connecting in smaller break out rooms meant that everyone had the chance to talk, read and share. Groups looked at a selection of Simon’s poems, including an extract form his latest work, a translation of the Middle English poem ‘The Owl and the Nightingale’ 

After a quick 10-minute screen break, session resumed and most excitingly, Simon Armitage entered the chat. To begin, Simon recited ‘The Present’ - a poem rich with the nostalgia of childhood including intricate details of the snow he used to see on the Pennines as a young boy. 

“I have written a lot about snow and I still think of it as… Miraculous.” 

The audience were engrossed as he recited his own poetry in his signature Northern tones. With his personable demeanour and gentle humour, Simon made it feel as if we were in the same room, creating an intimate and engaging experience for all. 

Simon noted the importance of elevating environmental issues and the role this now plays within his work. Since incorporating these themes into his own poetry, Simon has initiated the Laurel Prize, now in its third year.  

The Laurel Prize is an international competition for poems in the English language dealing with nature and environmental work.  

Simon recalled the 60s and 70s, revealing how nature poetry seemed to be labelled as ‘old fashioned’ and was a subject matter that was very much out of the norm. However, in comparison, he reflected that it is much more common today with writers unable to ignore the climate issues impacting the wider world. 

"Sometimes when I'm teaching poetry, I talk to students about trying to find experiences to use as an analogy, experiences that are common to us and that we can all understand..." 

Simon’s method when it comes to teaching is a sentiment strikingly similar to the premise of Shared Reading; finding connection within the text through personal experiences. 

Despite feeling like the "Mrs. Rochester of poetry at the moment...", Simon left the audience feeling rejuvenated and nourished, by his words both on and off the page. As the event came to a close and our wonderful facilitator, Andrew, was thanking everyone involved, Simon said, "Actually... Simon couldn't make it, I'm just a stand in... I hope it's all gone well." 

If we are going by the beaming faces that filled up the rows of tiny squares across our laptop screens, we think we can safely say that, stand in or not, it had gone extremely well. 

Shared Reading groups meet weekly to read aloud together all over the country and online. If you'd like to join a group or find out more, visit the Find a Group page of our website.

We are also always on the lookout for more volunteers to join the Reading Revolution. We're currently recruiting for a number of volunteer roles within Dementia care homes in Wigan, or, why not sign up to write letters to care home residents as part of our Life Letters project? 

To talk to us about volunteering you can contact our team on volunteer@thereader.org.uk or fill in the online form here. 

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