Simon Armitage, Marsden rock star
Simon Armitage's poems hand carved into Pennine rocks form the outcome of Ilkley Literature Festival’s Stanza Stones poetry project, which launched in style in the Pennine watershed town of Marsden - home to a Write Out Loud poetry night - with an evening of poetry, dance and film. The session began with Simon reading his specially-commissioned sequence of poems on the theme of ‘water’ in all its states, each giving the title to a poem: Rain, Mist, Snow, Dew, Beck and Puddle.
Each was chipped into a rock at intervals along a 47-mile permanent ‘Poetry Trail’ on the Pennine watershed between Marsden and the festival’s base in Ilkley. Simon's candid account of how he created the poems makes fascinating reading.
At this launch session in a packed Marsden Mechanics Institute, the poet mused on the potential life of his ‘rock’ poetry, its dialogue with the stars and what visiting aliens might make of it in some post-earthling future. He thinks of the project as “giving poetry back to the landscape".
Water is what Marsden does best, its greatest export (apart from the poet himself). A high rainfall supplies the town’s abundant reservoirs via the peat Pennines’ permanently percolating streams, before shipping it out along the river Colne, the Huddersfield Narrow Canal and some pipes. This being where Armitage grew up, who better placed to write about the stuff?
His surprisingly dry account of the project’s long journey, spiced with superb recitals of each poem, was mesmerising, with images of the project’s journey forming a soggy backdrop.
The audience was also treated to a cocktail of cultural creations from the project’s youth engagement element in which young writers, dancers and filmmakers interpreted Simon’s and their own poems. We had a fascinating film documentary about the project’s progress followed by superb, and superbly read, poems from Calderdale Young writers, Longley School students and Sheffield Young Writers, with dance interpretations by youngsters from RJC Dance. Then Manasamitra brought their atmospheric Indian music and highly percussive dance interpretations of Simon’s poems. Not my cup of tea, dance. Or so I thought. This was a fabulous, accessible blend that was part dance, part mime.
To have all this in a town/village of but 4,700 souls is amazing. The project is a real credit to its team, led by festival director, Rachel Feldberg. For Simon Armitage also we got the impression that this was more than just another project, rather a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. To have grown up amid the stark beauty of these hills and be able to leave your words carved on them, legitimately, must be an astonishing privilege, one he seems to have handsomely repaid, not just in the stunning stanzas, but also in his contribution to his clearly successful work with the young people in creating something with potentially lasting impact. Appropriate, because that is the aim of the Cultural Olympiad of which this is a part.
Further Stanza Stones celebrations include a series of guided walks at Oxenhope and Ilkley in June. More details from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo © Pip Hall. Reproduced with permission.