If Simon Armitage could choose a theme tune, it wouldn’t be ‘Hitler’s Only Got One Ball’. We know this because he’s just stopped reading and cocked an ear as an ice cream van runs circles round the carpark outside his reading. He supposes, he tells the large and mostly grey audience, it might be his protester -- the last time he read at Ledbury Poetry Festival a woman appeared with a placard. ‘It made me feel radical’ he says.
I’m not sure how radical you can be when you’ve just been named Oxford Professor of Poetry. To investigate, I’m following Simon Armitage round Ledbury town centre, to see if he takes radical actions or just goes to the pub. Last time i followed a poet here, he went to the pub. I did too. I’m also curious about Simon Armitage’s suit jacket. It throws me. Somehow I’d imagined a classic Harrington. This slightly crumpled navy blue number seems too ill fitting for poetry royalty. Anyway, here I am not very casually browsing New Korean Poetry while Simon Armitage has a short conversation with the bookshop staff. ‘I’m sorry’, he says, clearly embarrassed, ‘it was the other bookshop’. I look round. No Simon Armitage books on obvious display. Hmm.
Back in the community hall, they turn off the air conditioning and a woman approaches the stage. She introduces him clumsily, admitting that she hasn’t read the book but that she heard him speak on Radio 4. My fears of dying of heat exhaustion in the midst of an aging provincial audience are intensifying. But, he doesn’t disappoint. He’s dry, engaging, and can take you from laughter to stillness in an instant. His poetry and stories are beautiful and rich. He is clearly someone who delights in language. It may take many more miles of trailing him before i have the faintest clue how he does it.