The West Yorkshire poet Simon Armitage, a former probation officer who describes his writing as “no-brow”, has been appointed as the UK’s 21st poet laureate.
Armitage, who received a phone call from Theresa May offering him the position on Thursday, said his parents cried when he told them the news – he had made them particularly nervous in 1994, when he gave up his day job to become a full-time poet.
“I was giving up a profession, a salary, lots of security for something that seemed to them very woolly and uncertain,” he said. “So to be able to go back to them 30 years later and give them this news felt very significant. They just burst into tears. I got a text from my dad later saying ‘We’ve stopped crying now.’ He’s very witty, though, my dad and he added, ‘If your grandad had been alive today, this would have killed him.’”
The office of laureate – Britain’s highest literary honour – has its roots in the 17th century, when Ben Jonson was granted a pension by King James I for his services to the crown. Armitage will take home an annual stipend of £5,750, along with the traditional butt of sack: 600-odd bottles of sherry. It is no longer a lifetime position and his tenure is set to last, as for his predecessors Carol Ann Duffy and Andrew Motion, for a fixed term of 10 years.
Simon Armitage said he had no hesitation whatsoever about taking on the role. “It’s a big commitment, but if you’d asked me 30 years ago what I want to aim for, this might have been on the list,” he said. “And I feel I’ve been writing the kind of public-facing, public-occasion poetry that this role will require for quite a long time now.” …