Poet Simon Armitage delights pupils with Gorleston school visit
10:15 28 December 2012
Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2012
When she wrote to literary heavyweight Simon Armitage, she did not expect a reply.
The celebrated West Yorkshire writer was the Millennium Poet, has appeared on BBC Newsnight on many occasions and his poems have been part of the GCSE syllabus for more than a decade - studied by hundreds of thousands of children.
But something about the email sent by Nicole Hawes - a high level teaching assistant at Ormiston Venture Academy in Gorleston - caught the imagination of Mr Armitage CBE.
And he agreed to a rare school visit to read his poetry to children and answer their questions.
Mr Armitage said: “I don’t go into many schools, but just occasionally a letter catches my eye or I like what they’ve written or fancy a day out. It must have been polite.”
Armed with a collection of his poetry books, Mr Armitage took the train 200 miles across the country to Gorleston.
“It’s a school close to the type I went to,” he revealed. “I’m reading some poems to Year 11 students.
“They’re studying my poems for their exams so as well as me reading them they can ask questions about them like ‘what does this mean’, and potentially help with their exams.”
A group of keen students quizzed him on some of his work before he gave some readings - revelling in the opportunity to speak to the author of some of their favourite poems.
Poems discussed included the violent Hitcher, about a hitchhiker’s murder, and Kid, which is about the imagined relationship between Batman and Robin.
But Mr Armitage joked that he did not hope to inspire youngsters to take up poetry, as he “did not want more competition”.
He told them: “I would advise anybody who’s thinking about writing to get a job first as it’s difficult to stare at a blank page thinking about what to write, thinking what’s going to pay the gas bill.”
And he said he enjoyed meeting GCSE students as “they’re not bogged down with literary criticism and occasionally point out things you’ve not realised or have forgotten”.
“It reminds me of the time in my life when I started to read poetry when I was 16,” he added.
Ebony Goodwin, 15, is a pupil at Ormiston Venture.
She said: “I like analysing the poems and like The Convergence of the Twain. It’s really clever how it’s written.”
The Convergence of the Twain was written for and read at the Westminster memorial service for 9/11, after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre in New York.
Ryan Martins, 16, asked about the inspiration for some of his poetry and Chris Hart, 16, asked him how he went about becoming a poet.
Kain McBarron, 12, then asked him a string of questions for the school’s E Magazine.
Nicole Hawes, the teaching assistant who invited Mr Armitage to the school, said: “The students are studying Simon Armitage and I thought it would be a fantastic idea if he could come.
“I contacted his company not thinking for a second that he would consider it, but to our surprise he said he would.
“It was an absolute honour.”
She added classes were excited, and some did not believe “we had the real man in”.
“They thought it would be some stooge,” she smiled. “But it’s been a real boost for them and they’ve done their own research into him.
“It’s given them a real sense that poetry is current.