By Edward, Olivia
Geographical , Vol. 81, No. 9
Simon Armitage, 46, is a poet and novelist who has lived in Yorkshire for most of his life. After graduating from Portsmouth Polytechnic with a degree in geography, he went on to spend more than seven years working as a probation officer in Manchester before becoming a full-time poet. He talks to Olivia Edward about one of the least-explored places left on the planet, why he won't go back to the rainforest and how bad poetry can leave him feeling violent
I was brought up in Marsden (on the Yorkshire-Lancashire border). It's a village of about 3,000 or 4,000 people--an ex-textile village with lots of mills that used to do everything from sheering sheep to putting the buttons on suits. By the time I was growing up, they were all closing down.
It's quite unusual to grow up and stay in a certain part of the world. People are either envious or curious. A lot of the writers I know have been quite transitory. They haven't wanted to write about roots and lineage and legacy. But within the arts, the margin has become the new centre. People are interested in hearing voices from the edge.
I went to Portsmouth Polytechnic to study geography because a girl 1 was going out with at the time went to Southampton. She dumped me after about three weeks. I lived, but I was very homesick. I felt as though 1 had fetched up on the south coast in what seemed like a completely alien environment--I found Portsmouth quite a hostile and aggressive city in some ways.
I've got quite a few poems from that period written directly out of things we had been studying. One is called 'The Peruvian Anchovy Industry'--it's all about the fluctuating populations of anchovies--and then there's 'Guano Farming in the South Atlantic', and another poem called 'Cultural Studies'.
They warned us on the course that we could end up being a jack of all trades, master of none, but I've always felt that about myself anyway. I'm someone who likes to take an interest in a lot of things but only to a certain depth.
After university, I came back home and went on the dole. I had no idea what I was going to do. Economically, they were difficult times. It was 1984, just after the miners' strike and there was quite a peculiar atmosphere in the country.
Working for the probation service seems like a different life now. I'm glad I did it. It was great fun, but l couldn't do it again. I'm too soft now.
Writing has taken me all over the world, hr the past 18 months I've been to Mauritius, Dubai, Mumbai, Seattle, New York. [All this travel] was totally unexpected. I've always associated writing, especially poetry, with being in an attic somewhere, being very poor, and very lonely, and a bit weird. …