Simon Armitage seems like a cool guy. He’s got this flop of hair and a kind of thrown together dress sense you can only find in a Yorkshire poet; you see him walking the moors looking solemn, generally in the rain, calling verses into the heath like Cathy from Wuthering Heights.
He sits down- cross legged, of course- a little nervous (who wouldn’t be, this audience is packed), you can tell he’s just drained a coffee backstage, but no-one’s here to critique him- we’re all here to admire him.
The interviewer, Johnty Claypole, sits opposite him, mirroring Simon’s stance; they exchange a look of friendly reassurance. The crowd falls silent, the shuffle of glasses moved down onto perched noses, everyone listening intently.
Johnty begins, introducing his guest, and we get cracking. The subject is Armitage’s newest escapade, a War documentary focusing on those points of view often ignored throughout WW1 history. The wives, the mothers, the nurses, the friends, the great minds, all fallen silent as time has caught up on them; their memories hidden in books, relatives, legends.
In the wake of the anniversary of a hundred years since the outbreak of WW1, Simon has paid homage to these forgotten voices by choosing seven of the most harrowing and emotive and turning them into poems to be interspersed within the documentary between the facts of these events.
Before each, he explains how he came to write them and how he chose them: the first from a nurse who served behind the lines at Normandy, telling her tale through a diary she kept religiously throughout the duration of the war. Scattered between vivid scenes of violence, gore and tragedy, she wrote of trips to the seafront where she would swim and cleanse herself of her worries.
From this, Armitage wrote a poem from her perspective. It is both emotive and brilliant, and you could tell how empathetic he is merely by his choice of words and the fact he had found her great nephew to read it out.
The other poems travel between a great scholar lost on the lines, Arthur Heath, the brave fighter pilot who made an extraordinary escape from a POW camp, the mother who lost all five of her sons, the miracles of small villages who had a complete return of all the men sent out to what they believed was certain death and the final two, poems of remembrance by the names of “Poppy” and “Memorial”.
Simon never pretends he can empathize completely, often repeating that he could not comprehend the sorrow, bravery and devastation faced during the great war, yet when it finishes there is a general silence across the hall before raucous rounds of applause in which we all remember.
Armitage has done what he intended to: the forgotten voices have been spoken, and through the power of his poetry they would no longer have that name.
Anna is 14 and likes Queen.