Simon Armitage, Professor of Poetry at the University of Leeds, has been announced as the UK’s new Poet Laureate.
Taking over the 351-year-old role from Dame Carol Ann Duffy, Professor Armitage is set to become the UK’s 21st Poet Laureate, a position he will hold for a fixed term of ten years.
Speaking to the University of Leeds, Professor Armitage said: “It’s a huge honour to be appointed Poet Laureate, one of the great high offices of literature.
“Over the past two decades the laureateship has become a working role, with previous laureates actively involved in the promotion of poetry and in numerous initiatives to identify and encourage talent, especially within education and among younger writers; I hope to build on the work of my predecessors with energy and enthusiasm.”
In this vein, Professor Armitage has said that his ultimate goal would be to use the role to set up a National Centre for Poetry.
Although Professor Armitage is aware that there may be some justifiable apprehensions about the role being occupied by the 20th white man to do so – there have been reports that Imtiaz Dharker was initially offered the role, but had decided to turn it down – he has asserted that he wants to use his new role to amplify the voices of writers from “diverse and disadvantaged” backgrounds.
In an interview with the BBC, Professor Armitage touched on this point further: “When I grew up in a terraced house on the side of a hill in West Yorkshire, I did not feel like the chosen one. When I was working as a probation officer in Greater Manchester, dragging junkies out of the gutter and sitting across the table from notorious criminals, it did not feel like a life of privilege.
“I suppose what I’m saying is, I understand to a lesser extent what it means to come from outside the establishment, even if I’ve arrived at certain established positions, and I need to keep those things in the back of my mind.”
To date, Professor Armitage has published 28 collections of poetry, in which his often darkly comic writing has dealt intimately with the growing threat of climate change as well as economic meltdown.
Although the role of Poet Laureate is an honorary position appointed by the Queen, it is likely that Professor Armitage will continue to address these most pressing social issues, rather than focus on royal events and national occasions. In an interview with the BBC, Armitage joked that he had “missed the boat” on the Duke and Duchess of Sussex’s baby, saying that “it’s been made very clear to me that although the monarch is my line manager, for want of a better word, there are no expectations or obligations in that direction.”
Professor Armitage began his role as the University of Leeds’ first Professor of Poetry 18 months ago. Since then, he has established the ‘School of Night’, a fortnightly poetry reading group open to students and members of the general public, and has been closely involved in the creation of the Brotherton Poetry Prize, which is aimed at nurturing emerging artistic talent.
It marked a return to the School of English for Armitage who, 20 years prior, took up his first academic post at the University, teaching creative writing to Leeds students.
Sir Alan Langlands, University of Leeds Vice-Chancellor, commended Professor Armitage on his appointment, saying: “We warmly congratulate Simon on this wonderful news. The laureateship is well-deserved and, crucially, has gone to a poet who will be a tireless ambassador for poetry in the public arena.
“As the first Professor of Poetry in our School of English his contribution to developing the next generation of poets has already been invaluable.
Dr Fiona Becket, Head of the School of English, had similar words of praise: “At a time when poetry is everywhere and is engaging wide and diverse audiences, Simon’s voice is central.
“He has long been an enduring and powerful presence, and a shaper of contemporary poetry in so many ways – from encouraging writers at the start of their careers, being supportive of activity which raises the profile of poetry and, in his work, exploring multiple environments for new writing.”