Event Review – Simon Armitage at Grasmere 30th June 2015

images_list_co_uk_armitage- Living in Lancashire my main source of Literature events is through those we run at Litfest and those run by Lancaster University and UCLAN. Increasingly more seem to be occurring in our local libraries and Waterstones which I’m really glad of but I rarely venture further afield.

At the Helen Humphreys event the previous week, I had a catch-up with one of my former tutors – Polly Atkin – and she’d suggested I might like to attend two events in Grasmere the following week (Simon Armitage’s reading on the 30th and Dorothy Wordsworth’s Canada Day Poetry Party on the 1st). She was of, course, right and I happily agreed dependent on travel plans.

Simon Armitage reads at Grasmere every year. His presence is one of the staples of the Wordsworth Trust’s Contemporary Poetry programme (Sadly now under threat due to a recent loss of funding). I’ve read a great deal of his work over the years – both his contemporary poetry and his translations of Gawain and the Green Knight etc. But I’d never seen him read. He even came to Lancaster as a part of Litfest’s annual festival a couple of year’s ago but – after volunteering all day for the other poetry events – I didn’t manage to make it to the evening session.

Well, more fool me. I’ve definitely been missing out – both on Simon Armitage’s very entertaining reading and on the Wordsworth Trust in general.

I’d not really been back to Grasmere – apart from going for walks round Rydal and Grasmere ‘lakes’- since I went on a Primary School trip to see Dove Cottage when I was about seven. However, I’ve long been aware that Grasmere is a thriving place for poetry thanks to the Wordsworth trust, but as I can’t drive (unless the DVLA get their skates on I’ll be 90 before I’m given a provisional) I often have to let the events there pass me by for reasons of practicality.

It’s not the easiest place to get to on public transport, you have to leave well in advance, and it’s certainly not the easiest place to get back from at night, but thankfully I had a lift. As I’m not at Uni at the moment, I could manage the trek easily enough. I got a bus to Preston train station, a train to Oxenholme, a train to Windermere and then a bus from windermere to Grasmere. I was doing it as a trial run for my early start to get to Dorothy Wordsworth’s Canada Day Poetry party the next day and it went surprisingly smoothly. I finished the wonderful Signal to Noise and made a dint in the opening of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell along the way so I didn’t mind the travelling in the beautiful sunshine.

The event was held in one of the function rooms at The Daffodil Hotel across the way from Dove Cottage itself. We really needed the extra space as well as we were nearly full up! The hotel is beautiful and the views out across the lake were stunning. I nabbed a copy of Paper Aeroplane: Collected Poems 1989-1914 on my way in and sat down to flick through it whilst I waited for everyone to filter in.

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As the reading began Simon welcomed us with an intriguing poem: a long list of categories of passenger being invited to board a plane. But it was far from an ordinary list and some of the categories were definitely tongue in cheek with a wry, scathing glance towards both travel companies and the social class system.

The evening continued in this vein and we all sat happily entranced, listening to poems full of dark humour, cleverly picked out details, lists and above all Northerness. The poetry was interspliced with entertaining anecdotes – the story of the doughnut man will live long in my memory – and readings from his latest travelogue Walking Away. I don’t read much non-fiction, although I have Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks and The Old Ways waiting for me on my shelf, but I think Walking Away and Walking Home would be well worth a read. Both books combine two of my favourite things – poetry and nature – and as such I’ll be keeping a weather eye out for them at the library. We had a break in the middle – much needed as I scurried off to the bar for another free glass of iced water. It was also a chance to stretch my legs as my knee was bothering me again (more on that in my #DWCDPP15 review). We sat back down for the second half – equally enjoyable – before another list, this time the peculiar contents of the sock he passed around for donations at the end of each evening’s poetry reading, concluded the evening.

Closing remarks came from The Wordsworth Trust, including a sad farewell to Literature Officer Andrew Forster. He got a lot of applause and will be sorely missed. The first issue of his new online poetry magazine – The Compass – can be seen here. I’m working my way through it at the moment and enjoying it immensely.

We then had a chance to get our books signed before wandering off into the – still bakingly warm – evening. I’m glad I finally got a chance to see Simon read and I hope that more funding can be found for the Contemporary Poetry Programme so I can enjoy more events up in Grasmere.

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