The Guardian/ YouTube, 15 November 2011
Inspired by Armitage's memorable
adaptation of Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea, broadcast on Radio 4 on 28 December 2013, I looked through the
Internet for examples of the poet's other work, and came across this interview with John Harris.
In a 12-minute piece, Armitage revealed
that he perceived poetry as possessing both social and moral potency; not only could it inspire readers to reflect on the
world around them, but it could encourage them to seek change, not only within their own lives but in the lives of others.
Language has the capacity to disrupt, if the poet can find an effective means of expression.
Armitage's work is firmly grounded in his
sense of place; he has spent all of his life in Yorkshire, and cites as his inspiration many other writers from the region,
including Larkin, Auden and Alan Bennett. All of them have a particular view of life: maybe it's the environment that
inspires them, or the people, or both. Armitage's conception of identity is a world away from that of the Professional
Yorkshireman, embodied by ex-cricketer Geoffrey Boycott; it is what gives Armitage's poetry its particular resonance.
What is perhaps most interesting
about the interview, however, is the form in which it was cast. Presenter Harris began by claiming that most people
neither read nor know any poetry; and it is therefore the responsibility of artists like Armitage to help popularize the art.
This is surely a false claim: programmes such as Poetry Please on Radio 4 attest to the popularity of poetry amongst
listeners. It's not just a matter of remembering what one learned at school: poetry is like good food, to be sampled
and tasted at will.
Harris also seemed obsessed with the North/South divide; that Armitage was somehow unique ('different' perhaps) in
his choice to live and work in Yorkshire. While regional identities are undoubtedly important, they need not be set
in opposition to one another; it goes without saying that in a multicultural society different beliefs should learn to co-exist,
without problematizing them. This was precisely Armitage's point; while he embraced a certain identity, he did
not prioritize it over other constructions.
Sometimes it would be nice if journalists looked into themselves and deconstructed their own
subject positions before finding out about other people's ideas.