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The news that Simon Armitage has been appointed the new Poet Laureate, the twenty-first in England’s history, is both profoundly welcome and somewhat unexpected. Since Armitage published his first collection of poetry Zoom! in 1989, he has established himself as perhaps the country’s foremost national poet, turning his hand with assurance to work as diverse as the definitive modern translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, a libretto for the 2006 opera The Assassin Tree and many well-received works of non-fiction, such as his account of a walk along the Pennine Way, Walking Home.
Not since Philip Larkin has a modern poet managed to combine robust accessibility with intellectual assurance, and Armitage’s healthy sales of his books must, one imagines, make his less commercially successful peers look on enviously. (He admitted in one recent interview that he would make a decent living purely from sales of his poetry alone: an unheard-of situation in an era when it is a publishing truism that people do not buy works of modern verse.)