SIMON Armitage is to receive the prestigious Achievement Award at this year’s Examiner Community Awards – and he sums up what creativity in the town is all about.
Although he has found national and worldwide fame as a poet, he has always stayed loyal to his roots and is intensely proud to still live in the area.
He said: “My family was here and it was the easiest and most natural thing to do to stay, but as time has gone by I have come to appreciate it more and more.
“There is always something new to explore – so much in terms of geography and history – and coming from a place like Marsden means you have one foot in an urban environment and one in a rural one. There just seems to be an ongoing narrative of people here whereas when I’m in London I always get the sense that the people I meet there are just passing through.
“Huddersfield is always a great place to come back to.
“It’s really great to be recognised at the awards by people from my own area. It makes me feel I’m still part of what’s going on here.”
And he says his love of poetry began at Colne Valley High School where a House is now named after him.
He was inspired by two English teachers, Geoff Bamford and Mike Shaw.
“They had a passion for the subject that went above and beyond and that comes from something very personal,” he said.
Simon, who lives in the Holme Valley, has reached just about every high there is in the poetry genre, topped off with a CBE for his outstanding services to literature earlier this year.
In February he took up the position as Professor of Poetry in the School of English Literature, Language and Linguistics at the University of Sheffield.
And he is worried that the massive rise in tuition fees could put some students off.
“These are worrying times,’’ he said. “When I went to university I got a grant and my fees were paid. Going to university was a lesson in how to budget, how to manage on your own and it worries me that people from my background now won’t want to go and end up with the kind of debt that looks terrifying.
“A lot of the top universities may end up very well off under this, but others could be left struggling. University is so much more than a degree and it opened my eyes to a completely different world.’’
He added: “Poetry is more relevant today than ever and there is no sign of it declining. It has strong book sales and when you go to music festivals there is often a poetry tent.’’
He said the world is often seen as a noisy, fast-moving place these days and poetry can be regarded as something of an escape from it.
He added: “We live in an environment where people say the first thing that comes into their head and sometimes print it. Poetry is exactly the opposite.”
Apart from being one of the most popular and prominent poets of his generation, Simon is also a respected translator of medieval texts.
His first collection of poems, Zoom!, was published in 1989, followed by Xanadu and Kid which was shortlisted for the 1992 Whitbread Poetry Prize.
During his career he has won numerous poetry awards including the Sunday Times Young Author of the Year and, more recently, the Keats-Shelley poetry prize for his work, The Present.
He has written four stage plays, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and a vice-president of the Poetry Society.
But he’s as down to earth as ever, revealing he almost never knew he’d been awarded the CBE.
“I saw the letter and thought it was a tax demand,” he said. “It was sort of formal so I threw it in the corner for a bit. Poetry doesn’t always get as much attention as I might like it to, so receiving the CBE felt like a day to carry the flag for poetry.”
Recently Simon has penned a poem used by the Philharmonia Orchestra for performances at London’s Royal Festival Hall which former Pulp frontman Jarvis Cocker narrated.
Away from the poetry, Simon is also a singer songwriter with his own band, The Scaremongers.
And his ultimate ambition would be to play a gig on home turf – possibly even the Picturedrome in Holmfirth which plays host to some big names from the world of music.
The Scaremongers is the name of a song off an album by 80s band Orange Juice – a band which was one of the driving forces behind Simon’s decision to form a group.
Simon is married to Sue – who is also in the band – and they have one daughter, 11-year-old Emmeline.
His parents, Peter and Audrey, live in Marsden and Peter is well known in amateur dramatics throughout West Yorkshire.