Thursday, 15 November 2007

Backstage - Simon Armitage

Welcome to Backstage, a brand spanking new Stacked Actors feature! Today we had Simon Armitage in the theatre reading a selection of his poems and talking about his work. This was for the benefit of our GCSE English students who are reading Anthology for their exams, but was enjoyed by staff and students alike.

As I've mentioned before, the ten questions below were devised by our Drama students to gain an insight in to a variety of arts careers. At first we thought we'd just concentrate on techies, actors, dancers etc, but I thought I'd take the opportunity to talk to a professional poet. I've adjusted the questions slightly to fit with the interviewee.

What made you get in to the profession?
I had a teacher at junior school who asked us to write a poem about Christmas. I wasn't even sure what a poem was, but I knew it was short and that appealed to me! He later told me that it was a really good poem and I wondered why he hadn't put it up on the wall. I've often wondered if my career as a poet was a career of revenge. You can't actually decide to be a poet though. You just have to be someone who writes poems.

Where do you train?
I actually studied to be a geographer at university. I'm not sure what a geographer does, but I had visions of exploring new places... not that there are many places left to explore. I then read psychology MA and that helped develop my poetry, but I never trained as a writer. I also attended writing workshops which was a positive way to develop and learn writing techniques.

What age did you start to write poems?
In my early 20's.

Do you specialise in poetry or do you have broader writing skills?
I see myself as a poet so most of the work I do, such as TV, radio, song writing etc relates to that. However, I do write essays and fiction too. People tend to see me as a poet rather than a writer.

Would you recommend a young writer to specialise in one area, or to try a wide range of writing styles?
I don't think you can decide that you want to be a writer. It has to come naturally and from a passion of it. If you write from passion then you will naturally develop your area of expertise. The passion has to come first.

How did you find a publisher or editor?
When I first started I sent a lot of work into magazines and newspapers. My first collection was put into print when a publisher contacted me after seeing one of these poems. My agent organised for my first work of fiction, Little Green Man, to be published. Again, my agent contacted me and offered representation after reading previous work. I wouldn't recommend a poet to have an agent though, as there wouldn't be much point for the agent!

Are you ever out of work?
There's never a time when there's nothing to do, or when I'm not busy. I work hard, but I also know I'm very fortunate. I'm free and independent in my work and that allows me time to spend on my writing.

Are you selective about the jobs you choose, i.e. doing workshops and readings in schools?
I very rarely go into schools, but mainly because I'm always so busy. I am lucky to be able to choose work that interests me. I am also in a band called The Scaremongers which I really enjoy. I write the lyrics and sing.

Do you have any words of encouragement or top tips for young poets?
Well, I don't want to encourage competition! The best thing you can do is read. Read other poets that you want to get inspiration from, and get writing yourself.

Extra question from Stacked Actors: Is being a professional poet anything like being a mechanic or hairdresser... I mean, do you ever get friends and family asking you to write them poems in the evenings and at weekends?
Ha ha! There's not much skill trading going on with my neighbours! I do occasionally get letters from people asking, for example, me to write a poem for their daughter who is getting married...
Do you ever oblige?
No, I don't, although I have written commissioned pieces before now, but only for projects or companies that I believe in. I get to be selective in the work I do. I have written poems for friends and family members, but again that's my choice. I think a poet is a very cool thing to be!

No comments: