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He wrote his first poem aged 10 as a school assignment. Armitage first studied at Colne Valley High School, Linthwaite, and went on to study geography at Portsmouth Polytechnic. He was a postgraduate student at the University of Manchester, where his MA thesis concerned the effects of television violence on young offenders. Finding himself jobless after graduation, he decided to train as a probation officer, like his father before him. Around this time he began writing poetry more seriously. He worked as a probation officer in Greater Manchester until 1994.
His first poetry collection was called Human Geography (1988). He published Zoom! in 1989.
Armitage's poetry collections include Book of Matches (1993) and The Dead Sea Poems (1995). He has written two novels, Little Green Man (2001) and The White Stuff (2004), as well as All Points North (1998), a collection of essays on Northern England. He produced a dramatised version of Homer's Odyssey and a collection of poetry entitled Tyrannosaurus Rex Versus The Corduroy Kid (which was shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize), both of which were published in July 2006. Many of Armitage's poems appear in the AQA (Assessment and Qualifications Alliance) GCSE syllabus for English Literature in the United Kingdom. These include "Homecoming", "Extract from Out of the Blue", "November", "Kid", "Hitcher", "Remains", and a selection of poems from Book of Matches, most notably of these "Mother any distance...". His work also appears on CCEA's GCSE English Literature course.
Armitage also writes for radio, television, film and stage. He is the author of five stage plays, including Mister Heracles, a version of Euripides' The Madness of Heracles. The Last Days of Troy premiered at Shakespeare's Globe in June 2014. He was commissioned in 1996 by the National Theatre in London to write Eclipse for the National Connections series, a play inspired by the real-life disappearance of a girl in Hebden Bridge, and set at the time of the 1999 solar eclipse in Cornwall.
Most recently Armitage wrote the libretto for an opera scored by Scottish composer Stuart MacRae, The Assassin Tree, based on a Greek myth recounted in The Golden Bough. The opera premiered at the 2006 Edinburgh International Festival, Scotland, before moving to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, London. Saturday Night (Century Films, BBC2, 1996) - wrote and narrated a fifty-minute poetic commentary to a documentary about night-life in Leeds, directed by Brian Hill. In 2010, Armitage walked the 264-mile Pennine Way, walking south from Scotland to Derbyshire. Along the route he stopped to give poetry readings, often in exchange for donations of money, food or accommodation, despite the rejection of the free life seen in his 1993 poem "Hitcher", and has written a book about his journey, called Walking Home.
In 2007 he released an album of songs co-written with the musician Craig Smith, under the band name The Scaremongers.
For the Stanza Stones Trail, which runs through 47 miles (76 km) of the Pennine region, Armitage composed six new poems on his walks. With the help of local expert Tom Lonsdale and letter-carver Pip Hall, the poems were carved into stones at secluded sites. A book, containing the poems and the accounts of Lonsdale and Hall, has been produced as a record of that journey and has been published by Enitharmon Press. The poems, complemented with commissioned wood engravings by Hilary Paynter, were also published in several limited editions under the title 'In Memory of Water' by Fine Press Poetry.
In 2016 the arts programme 14-18 NOW commissioned a series of poems by Simon Armitage as part of a five-year programme of new artwork created specifically to mark the centenary of the First World War. The poems are a response to six aerial or panoramic photographs of battlefields from the archive of the Imperial War Museum in London. The poetry collection Still premiered at the Norfolk & Norwich Festival and has been published in partnership with Enitharmon Press.
In 2019 he was commissioned by Sky Arts to create an epic poem and film 'The Brink' as one of 50 projects in 'Art 50' looking at British Identity in the light of Brexit. The Brink looked at the British relationship with Europe, as envisioned from the closest point of the mainland to the rest of the continent - Kent. http://www.skyartsart50.tv/projects/thebrink/
Armitage's second poem as Poet Laureate, "Finishing it" was commissioned in 2019 by the Institute of Cancer Research. Graham Short, a micro-engraver, meticulously carved the entire 51-word poem clearly onto a facsimile of a cancer treatment tablet.
Armitage wrote "All Right" as part of Northern train operator's suicide prevention campaign for Mental Health Awareness Week. Their video has a sound track of the poem being read by Mark Addy, while the words also appear on screen.
"the event horizon" was written in 2019 to commemorate the opening of The Oglesby Centre, an extension to Hallé St Peter's, the Halle orchestra's venue for rehearsals, recordings, education and small performances. The poem is incorporated into the building "in the form of a letter-cut steel plate situated in the entrance to the auditorium, the 'event horizon'".
"Ode to a Clothes Peg" celebrates the bicentenary of John Keats' six 1819 odes of which Armitage says "Among his greatest works, the poems are also some of the most famous in the English Language."
In November 2019 Armitage announced that he would donate his salary as poet laureate to create a new prize for a collection of poems "with nature and the environment at their heart". The prize is to be run by the Poetry School.
The Laureate's Library Tour
In November 2019 Armitage announced that each spring for ten years he would spend a week touring five to seven libraries giving a one hour poetry reading and perhaps introducing a guest poet. The libraries are to be selected in alphabetical order: in March 2020 he is to visit places or libraries with names starting with "A" or "B" (including the British Library), and so on until "W", "X", "Y" and "Z" in 2029. He comments: "The letter X will be interesting - does anywhere in the UK begin with X? I also want to find a way of including alphabet letters from other languages spoken in these islands such as Welsh, Urdu or Chinese, and to involve communities where English might not be the first language."
Armitage lives in the Holme Valley, West Yorkshire, close to his family home in Marsden. He is married to radio producer Sue Roberts. They have a daughter, Emmeline, born in 2000. Emmeline won the 2017 SLAMbassadors national youth poetry slam for 13-18-year-olds. Continuing in both her father's and grandfather's tradition, she is a member of the National Youth Theatre and a singer.
He is a supporter of his local football team, Huddersfield Town, to whom he makes many references in his book All Points North (1990).
Armitage is the first poet laureate who is also a DJ. He is a massive music fan, especially of The Smiths. During what his wife Sue described as "a bit of a mid-life crisis", Armitage and his college friend Craig Smith founded the band The Scaremongers. Their only album, Born in a Barn, was released in 2010.