'Walking generates poetic ideas ... I always come back with a couple of good adverbs': Simon Armitage on BBC's Saturday Live
Simon Armitage spoke about the process of becoming poet laureate on BBC Radio 4’s Saturday Live at the weekend. He said that at first, “as I understand it, there were a number of conversations going on between interested parties in the poetry world”.
Then he received a phone call from the-then prime minister, Theresa May: “I was at home, it was a very nice conversation. I hadn’t realised she too was a geography graduate [Oxford University in May’s case, Portsmouth Polytechnic in Armitage’s].”
He went on: “I think it’s a role which is based on trust … there were no requirements or obligations, but there are certain expectations from the general public … I’ve always been someone who’s written to occasion, or topical events … I just lengthened my stride.”
He spoke of giving the news to his parents. “It was a phone call I’d always wanted to make. [My dad] was incredibly emotional. He said to me, ‘If your granddad had been alive, it would have killed him!’.”
He also spoke about taking part in BBC4’s Winter Walks, and shared his experiences with Saturday Live presenter Richard Coles, who has broadcast one, too. He described it as “really unusual TV, and quite brave TV as well”.
He confirmed that “you’re kitted out with a selfie stick, it’s like a golf club. It’s a near-360-degree camera looking at you, a couple of microphones on the rucksack, and there is a drone following you all the way. Sometimes it’s several hundred metres above your head, and sometimes it’s just there, at your shoulder, just buzzing along behind you. It was an odd combination of being watched and being recorded, but also being completely on your own and talking to yourself.”
Armitage agreed that he found walking good for creativity. “Poets have often gone for a walk, and come back with a poem. Changing scenery and landscape, you’re constantly supplied with fresh images. Because you’re walking, your blood is up, your heart is pumping at a slightly higher speed … the visual stimulation seems to generate poetic ideas. … It does for me, anyway.” He added: “I come back with at least a couple of good adverbs.”