Presentation address by Professor John Whale

Chancellor,

Born in the West Yorkshire village of Marsden, Simon Armitage has established himself as a leading English poet, translator, prose writer, and broadcaster. His canon of work looks across to American influences and back to the classics of ancient Greece while allowing him to engage creatively with the origins of Northern English identity in the medieval period and through the nineteenth century to the present. He is a writer of international reach, but with a deep imaginative affinity to his native county.

Simon’s achievement includes more than twenty highly acclaimed collections of poetry, his translations Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and The Death of King Arthur;  two novels, White Stuff  and Little Green Man; and his non-fictional prose works,  All Points North, Gig,  Walking Home, and, most recently, Walking Away. His theatre works Mister Heracles, Jerusalem, and The Last Days of Troy have been performed at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre, and The Globe on the South Bank. 

Out of the language of his native region Simon has fashioned a vernacular which has developed into a poetic lingua franca capable of traversing history and a variety of geographies. It is a particular and distinctive language which establishes story-telling, humour, and place at the heart of poetry. It feels at home and authentic delivering the narrative of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight or issuing out of the gob of Mister Herakles. This extraordinary canon of work might best be described, then, as that of a Northern internationalist.

Seamus Heaney has written of an earlier generation of poets who made their region England, that for them, England is ‘consciously precious’ – something at once imaginatively tangible and elusive, a place of quest implying exile. The challenge of the contemporary English poet is to write from the position formerly occupied by those outside the homeland of empire. Simon has met that challenge inventively for some decades now, successfully extending not only the range of his own repertoire, but also the audience for poetry. And the extraordinary evidence of that creativity is not just in his published works, but – I am enormously proud to say – in his archive here in the Special Collections of our outstanding Brotherton Library. 

A Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, the recipient of an Ivor Novello Award for song-writing, a BAFTA, and a CBE for services to poetry, Simon has just recently been elected to the prestigious Oxford Professorship of Poetry and we wish him well on that journey south.

Chancellor, I am honoured and delighted to present to you for the degree of Doctor of Letters, honoris causa, Simon Robert Armitage.