Simon Armitage was born in 1963 in the village of Marsden and lives in West Yorkshire. He is a graduate of Portsmouth University, where he studied Geography. As a post-graduate student at Manchester University, his MA thesis concerned the effects of television violence on young offenders. Until 1994 he worked as a Probation Officer in Greater Manchester.
Simon Armitage is the current national Poet Laureate (2019-2029).
He is Professor of Poetry at the University of Leeds and was elected to serve as Professor of Poetry at the University of Oxford for 2015-2019. In Spring 2019, he held the post of Holmes Visiting Professor at Princeton University, USA.
Previously, he taught at the University of Leeds, the University of Iowa’s Writers’ Workshop and Manchester Metropolitan University before his 2011 appointment as Professor of Poetry at the University of Sheffield and Visiting Professor at the University of Falmouth.
Armitage has received numerous awards for his poetry including the Sunday Times Young Author of the Year, one of the first Forward Prizes, an Eric Gregory Award, a major Lannan Award, a Cholmondeley Award, the Spoken Word Award (Gold), the Ivor Novello Award for song-writing, BBC Radio Best Speech Programme, Television Society Award for Documentary and Keats-Shelley Prize for Poetry. He won the 2017 PEN America Award for Poetry in Translation and was awarded the 2018 Queens Gold Medal for Poetry.
In 1999 Armitage was named the Millennium Poet. In 2004 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. Armitage was awarded the CBE for services to poetry in 2010 and presented with the Hay Medal for Poetry at the 25th Hay Festival in 2012.
As part of Britain’s 2012 Cultural Olympiad and while Artist in Residence at London’s Southbank, Armitage conceived and curated Poetry Parnassus, a gathering of world poets and poetry from every Olympic nation. This landmark event is generally recognised to be the biggest coming together of international poets in history.
Prior to mainstream publication, Armitage published several limited edition pamphlets with small and local poetry presses, all now highly collectable. These included Human Geography, The Distance Between Stars, The Walking Horses, Around Robinson, and Suitcase.
His first full-length collection of poems, Zoom!, was published in 1989 by Bloodaxe Books. Further mainstream collections are:
2019 saw publication of Armitage’s new version of Hansel and Gretel illustrated by Clive Hicks-Jenkins (Design for Today) which originated as the puppet opera Hansel and Gretel (A Nightmare in Eight Scenes) and toured the UK in 2018. Clive-Hicks Jenkins’ work went on to win the V&A Illustration Award 2020 for Book Illustration.
Zoom! was a Poetry Book Society Choice. Kid was short-listed for the Whitbread Poetry Prize and was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. The Dead Sea Poems was short-listed for the Whitbread Poetry Prize, the Forward Prize and the TS Eliot Prize. CloudCuckooLand was short-listed for the Whitbread Poetry Prize. Both The Universal Home Doctor and Tyrannosaurus Rex Versus the Corduroy Kid were short-listed for the T.S. Eliot Prize. Seeing Stars was short-listed for the TS Eliot Prize and was a Poetry Book Society Choice. The Shout, a book of new and selected poems was published in the USA in 2005 by Harcourt and shortlisted for the US National Book Critics’ Circle Award. The Unaccompanied was a Poetry Book Society Choice.
Armitage’s highly acclaimed translation of the Middle English classic poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight was commissioned by Faber & Faber in the UK and Norton in the US. Published in 2007, it has sold over 100,000 copies worldwide to date and appears in its entirety in the Norton Anthology of English Literature. A new revised edition lavishly illustrated by British artist Clive Hicks-Jenkins was published by Faber & Faber (2018).
The Death of King Arthur, a further translation, was published by Faber and Norton in 2011. It became a Poetry Book Society Choice and was shortlisted for the 2012 TS Eliot Prize. Armitage’s translation of the medieval poem Pearl was published in 2016 and won the 2017 PEN America Award for Poetry in Translation.
Throughout his career, Armitage has continued to work with smaller and specialised poetry presses. Publications of this type include The Anaesthetist (Prospero Poets, 1994), The Not Dead (Pomona Press, 2008), Out of the Blue (Enitharmon, 2008) and the pamphlet The Motorway Service Station as Destination in its Own Right (Smith/Doorstep Books, 2009). Black Roses: The Killing of Sophie Lancaster was published by Pomona in 2012. Fine Press Poetry has published several illustrated limited editions including In Memory of Water (2013), Considering the Poppy (2014), Waymarkings (2017), Exit the Known World (2018) and Gymnasium (2019). Propolis published New Cemetery in 2018.
The Twilight Readings (2007) is an illustrated publication of Armitage’s first residency at the Yorkshire Sculpture Park (YSP). Flit (2018) comprises 40 poems and photographs by Armitage, who returned to YSP as poet in residence throughout 2017, its 40th anniversary year.
‘Still’ became a WW1 centenary exhibition and then specialist illustrated book edition (Enitharmon 2016) which published Armitage’s sequence of poems in response to 26 panoramic photographs of battlefields associated with the Battle of the Somme, chosen from archives at Imperial War Museum, London. This work was commissioned by 14-18 NOW: WW1 Centenary Art Commissions, Norfolk & Norwich Festival and Writers Centre Norwich.
Armitage edited with Robert Crawford The Penguin Anthology of Poetry from Britain and Ireland Since 1945 (Penguin, 1998) and edited with Tim Dee The Poetry of Birds (Viking 2009). Other anthologies include Short and Sweet: 101 Very Short Poems, and a selection of Ted Hughes’ poetry. Both are published by Faber & Faber.
Armitage has written two novels: Little Green Man (Viking, 2001) and The White Stuff (Viking, 2004). His other prose work includes the best-selling memoir All Points North, (Penguin 1998) which was The Yorkshire Post Book of the Year. His subsequent memoir Gig: The Life and Times of a Rock-Star Fantasist (Viking, 2009) documents his life-long passion for popular music and his role as lead singer and lyricist with the band The Scaremongers. The Scaremongers released their first album, Born In A Barn (Corporation Pop Records) in 2009; the same year they featured on BBC 2’s Culture Show and played Latitude Festival.
Armitage’s 2012 non fiction book Walking Home, an account of his troubadour journey along the Pennine Way, became a Sunday Times Top Ten best-seller for over a month and was shortlisted for the 2012 Portico Prize. The follow-up publication, Walking Away, also made the Sunday Times best-seller list for non-fiction.
Film, theatre, television and radio
Armitage has written for over a dozen television films and, with director Brian Hill, pioneered the docu-musical format which lead to such cult films as Drinking for England and Song Birds. Song Birds was screened at the Sun Dance Film Festival in 2006. He received an Ivor Novello Award for his song-lyrics in the Channel 4 film Feltham Sings, which also won a BAFTA.
In 2009 and 2010, Armitage presented films for BBC4 on Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and on Arthurian literature. For his programme on The Odyssey, he sailed from Troy in Turkey to the Greek island of Ithaca.
A Brief Period of Rejoicing, a 30 minute film-poem commissioned by Channel 5 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of VE Day, was performed by Sheila Hancock. Out Of The Blue was commissioned by Channel 5 to commemorate the fifth anniversary of 9/11 and was performed by Rufus Sewell.
The Great War: An Elegy (BBC 2, 2014), written and presented by Simon Armitage, followed seven WW1 stories and featured the new poems they inspired.
In 2011 Armitage wrote the BBC Radio 4 docu-drama Black Roses: The Killing of Sophie Lancaster, about the murder of Sophie Lancaster and with the full co-operation of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation. The broadcast created unprecedented feedback and listener-response. It was repeated soon after its original transmission and became the most re-requested of any programme on BBC Radio 4 in 2010.
Black Roses was awarded BBC Radio Best Speech Programme of 2011 and short-listed for the Ted Hughes Award that year. In 2012, it opened as a stage play at Manchester’s Royal Exchange and has since been produced as a BBC film, directed by Sue Roberts. The poetic script of Black Roses was published in full by Pomona in 2012. Black Roses and the work of the Sophie Lancaster Foundation contributed significantly to a change of UK legislation in the reporting of hate crime against sub-cultures.
More recently, Simon Armitage wrote the poetic script for Child in Mind (BBC 4, 2017), a commissioned documentary featuring a groundbreaking new scheme in Hull called PAUSE, which aims to break the cycle of repeat care removals. The film The Brink (2019), written and performed by Simon Armitage, was created for Art 50 to explore British identity and meditate on the relationship between Britain and Europe.
Armitage’s theatre plays include Mister Heracles, a version of the Euripides play The Madness of Heracles; Jerusalem, commissioned by West Yorkshire Playhouse; The Last Days of Troy, commissioned by Manchester Royal Exchange, and The Odyssey: Missing Presumed Dead, a 2015 English Touring Theatre and Liverpool Everyman & Playhouse co-production. I Am Thomas was a 2016 co-production with the National Theatre Scotland, Royal Lyceum Edinburgh, in association with Liverpool Everyman and Playhouse. Both The Last Days of Troy and The Odyssey played at Shakespeare’s Globe on London’s Southbank.
Armitage wrote the script for the puppet opera Hansel and Gretel (A Nightmare in Eight Parts) which toured with Goldfield Productions in 2018. The opera’s narrative poem was published in 2019 by Design for Today with illustrations by Clive-Hick-Jenkins, who designed the puppets.
Armitage’s earlier dramatisation of The Odyssey, commissioned by the BBC, was broadcast on Radio 4 in 2004 and released on CD through BBC Worldwide. It received Gold at the 2005 Spoken Word Awards. The book version, Homer’s Odyssey – A Retelling, is published by Faber and Faber (2006) in the UK and by Norton in the US. Other BBC radio plays include The Raft of the Medusa (2014) and Orpheus (2015).
The BBC Radio 4 series, The Poet Laureate has Gone to his Shed, which happened to be recorded just before the UK’s 2020 coronavirus lockdown and then broadcast during it, featured Simon Armitage talking to guests about life, language and music in his shed.
Armitage wrote the libretto for the opera The Assassin Tree, composed by Stuart McRae, which premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival in 2006.
For over ten years, Armitage has been a regular guest on The Mark Radcliffe Show, first on BBC Radio 1, then BBC Radio 2 and more recently on the Radcliffe and Maconie Show on BBC Radio 6 Music. He also contributes to Guy Garvey’s Finest Hour (BBC Radio 6 Music).
Armitage’s many contributions to BBC Radio 4 include his co-hosting of Armitage and Moore’s Guide to Popular Song and his role as a reviewer for the weekly arts programme Front Row. He was also a regular contributor to BBC 2’s The Review Show.
From 2010 to 2012, Armitage worked with letter-carver Pip Hall and landscape designer Tom Lonsdale on the Stanza Stones project hosted by Ilkley Literature Festival. Armitage wrote a sequence of six poems, In Memory of Water. Each poem was carved into stones at various sites along the South Pennine watershed between Marsden and Ilkley. These sites now form the 45 mile Stanza Stones Trail. The mystery seventh stone, sited in an unnamed location, has yet to be found.
Subsequently, Northumberland National Park’s Sill Arts Programme commissioned Armitage to write six new poems for the Poems in the Air project. Walkers in the area can now use the Poems in the Air mobile phone app to unlock the opportunity to hear each poem at the site which inspired it.
In Praise of Air was the world’s first catalytic poem. Developed in collaboration with Professor Tony Ryan at the University of Sheffield, it used air-cleansing nanotechnology embedded in a 10m by 20m (33ft x 66ft) poster-poem which was attached to the side of a city-centre university building. The poster absorbed more than two tonnes of air pollution before it was turned into multiple artworks and sold in aid of charity.
For his commitment and achievements in literature, Armitage has been awarded Honorary Doctorates by the University of Portsmouth, the University of Huddersfield, the Open University, Sheffield Hallam University and Leeds University. He has been elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature (2014), Honorary Fellow at Trinity College, Oxford (2019) and Honorary Fellow at the British Academy (2021).
Armitage has served as a judge for the Forward Prize, the TS Eliot Prize, the Whitbread Prize, the Griffin Prize, and the Man Booker Prize 2006.
Simon Armitage is a Vice President of the Poetry Society, a Patron of the Arvon Foundation, a Patron of the Friends of Yorkshire Sculpture Park, a Patron of the Wordsworth Trust, and Official Patron of the Elmet Trust.
1989 Zoom! made a Poetry Book Society Choice
1992 A Forward Poetry Prize for Kid
1993 Sunday Times Young Writer of the Year
1994 Lannan Award
1998 Yorkshire Post Book of the Year for All Points North
2003 Ivor Novello Award for song-writing; BAFTA winner
2004 Fellow of Royal Society for Literature
2005 Spoken Word Award (Gold) for The Odyssey
2006 Royal Television Society Documentary Award Winner for Out of the Blue
2008 The Not Dead (Channel 4, Century Films) Mental Health in the Media Documentary Film Winner
2010 Seeing Stars made a Poetry Book Society Choice
2010 Keats-Shelley Prize for Poetry
2010 Awarded the CBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List, for services to poetry
2012 The Death of King Arthur made Poetry Book Society Choice
2012 Hay Medal for Poetry
2014 Cholmondeley Award