Small talk: Simon Armitage

Born in 1963 in Huddersfield, northern England, Simon Armitage worked as a probation officer until 1994, when he devoted himself to writing. His 10 volumes of poetry include Zoom! (1989), Kid (1992), The Dead Sea Poems (1995) and Tyrannosaurus Rex Versus the Corduroy Kid (2006). He has also published two novels, non-fiction and a translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight (2007). He has won a Forward Poetry Prize and been shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Award and the TS Eliot Prize. This year he was awarded the CBE for services to poetry. He lives in Yorkshire with his family.

What piece of writing changed your life?

Ted Hughes’s poems, which I read in a school anthology, aged 15 or 16. The pressure and intensity in the language were like magic.

What is your daily writing routine?

When I’m at home I work 9am to 4pm, while my daughter is at school. I don’t write poetry all the time; I might write journalism or a review or some drama.

Where do you write best?

In my office at home. It’s like a den and I have all my toys in there.

Which literary character most resembles you?

Robinson Crusoe. Writing cuts you off from a lot of things. It’s a solitary adventure.

Who are your literary influences?

When I started it was Hughes, Heaney, Harrison, Hill, Hopkins, Hardy, people whose name begins with an ‘H’ really. I have also translated a lot of medieval poetry.

How do you relax?

Holidays; spending time with my family; watching football; alcohol. I never drink when I’m working so a drink is a sign that says “Off duty”.

What is your favourite word?

Snittered. It’s a Middle English word and it’s virtually untranslatable, but you might say “The snow snittered down softly ... ”

How would you earn your living if you had to give up writing?

I’d do something outside, something that gets me on the other side of the glass. I do find it frustrating spending every day indoors.

Where is your favourite place in the world?

St Ives, Cornwall. I love the light, that it’s surrounded on three sides by sea, the community and the higgledy-piggledy nature of it.

What was the first novel you read?

Under my own steam it was The Wind in the Willows. I used to get into the airing cupboard at home and read on a wooden shelf in semidarkness. It was a bit awkward when people came into the bathroom and didn’t know I was in there.

Simon Armitage will be appearing at the Southbank Centre’s Poetry International festival on November 1-2. His latest collection of poems is ‘Seeing Stars’ (Faber).

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