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Armitage, the Aga and slices of lemon drizzle cake

Sunday, 21 June, 2015

The first ever Professor of Poetry at Oxford University was Joseph Trapp, in 1708. Among his literary works was The Church of England defended against the Church of Rome, in Answer to a late Sophistical and Insolent Popish Book. Trapp was followed down the centuries by names including Matthew Arnold, W.H. Auden, Robert Graves, John Wain, Seamus Heaney and Paul Muldoon. The incumbent is Sir Geoffrey Hill and he will retire at the end of this academic term. On Friday, it was announced that Simon Armitage is to be his successor. Charlotte Runcie was lukewarm in her reaction: “Certainly his lectures will be warm, contemporary and thoughtful. But his genial, slightly scruffy demeanour on endless arts documentaries has lent him the reputation of a poet to read while taking a second helping of lemon drizzle cake with your feet up by the Aga. This is not a good thing,” she wrote in The Telegraph.

On the other hand, Britain’s Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, welcomed the decision, calling Armitage “a fine, vocational poet and a brilliant communicator for the modern age who never forgets the roots and ancestry of poetry.” Anyone who can divide the house of poetry must be worth reading.

I Say I Say I Say

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Anyone here had a go at themselves
for a laugh? Anyone opened their wrists
with a blade in the bath? Those in the dark
at the back, listen hard. Those at the front
in the know, those of us who have, hands up,
let’s show that inch of lacerated skin
between the forearm and the fist. Let’s tell it
like it is: strong drink, a crimson tidemark
round the tub, a yard of lint, white towels
washed a dozen times, still pink. Tough luck.
A passion then for watches, bangles, cuffs.
A likely story: you were lashed by brambles
picking berries from the woods. Come clean, come good,
repeat with me the punch line ‘Just like blood’
when those at the back rush forward to say
how a little love goes a long long long way.

Simon Armitage


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